Morgan v. Martinez

Last modified 2022.02.05

  • Status Closed
  • Type Counsel
  • Court U.S. District Court
  • Issues Nontheist, Atheist, Humanist, Racial Equality, Religious Minorities

New Jersey resident Shannon Morgan, an atheist, attempted to order an “8THEIST” vanity license plate on the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s website. Her request was rejected on the ground that the proposed plate was “objectionable.” She then entered “BAPTIST” as a proposed plate; the website deemed that plate acceptable.

Morgan contacted the Commission for assistance with registering her “8THEIST” plate and was told by an employee that it was unknown why her request had been denied. Morgan made additional attempts to get her proposed license plate approved, but her requests were ignored.

In April 2014, we filed a lawsuit on Morgan’s behalf in federal court in New Jersey. Our complaint alleged that the Commission was improperly discriminating against atheist-themed license plates, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment, Free Exercise, Free Speech, and Equal Protection Clauses.

After we filed the case, the Commission offered to issue the license plate sought by Morgan and then moved to dismiss the case as moot, without changing its policies on acceptable license-plate messages. We filed an amended complaint, which the Commission similarly moved to dismiss. In May 2015, the court denied the Commission’s motion to dismiss in all relevant respects and permitted the case to proceed.

In August 2016, we reached a settlement agreement with the Commission, under which our client would receive the requested license plate and the Commission agreed to issue other vanity plates with pro-atheist, pro-LGBTQ-equality, and pro-feminism messages when requested. This case is now concluded.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

Act Now