May 2019 Church & State Magazine - May 2019

Mandatory ‘God’ License Plate Under Fire In Mississippi

  Rob Boston

Americans United has written to officials in Mississippi, demanding that they stop compelling motorists to use a license plate that contains the motto “In God We Trust.” 

A new state law puts an image of the state seal, which includes “In God We Trust,” on the default license plate. To avoid getting a plate with the religious slogan, residents have to pay extra fees for a specialty plate.

Attorneys with Americans United say this arrangement is unconstitutional. 

“Government must never pressure citizens to publicly display any religious belief,” wrote AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser to Mississippi Department of Revenue Commissioner Herb Frierson and Attorney General Jim Hood. “Yet Mississippi is forcing its many residents who do not believe in a god to choose between displaying a religious message that is contrary to their beliefs or paying a fine or fee.” 

AU’s letter cites a key Supreme Court case in this area, Wooley v. Maynard, from 1977. In that ruling, the high court said that George Maynard, a New Hampshire Jehovah’s Witness, could not be fined for covering up the state’s motto, “Live Free or Die,” on his license plate. Maynard said the phrase was objectionable to his political and religious beliefs.

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