A Law Student's Attempt to Understand It All.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Christian License Plates

My friend Dan pointed me to this CNN story. A Florida state representative has proposed a bill to create a new license plate which reads "I BELIEVE" and bears the image of a stained-glass window featuring a cross. (photo credit: AP)

There were some interesting quotes in the article.

The problem with the state manufacturing the plate is that it "sends a message that Florida is essentially a Christian state" and, second, gives the "appearance that the state is endorsing a particular religious preference," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
This is the boilerplate, standard response by the ACLU on any indication of Christianity in the public sphere. My guess is that Mr. Simon had not even seen the proposed plate. Even if he had seen it, his response was not reasoned out based on these peculiar facts. Instead, the response is the product of a kneejerk reaction to any cross seen in public.

What is more interesting is what Rep. Kelly Skidmore (D) said:
It's not a road I want to go down. I don't want to see the Star of David next. I don't want to see a Torah next. None of that stuff is appropriate to me," said Skidmore, a Democrat who voted against the plate in committee. "I just believe that."
Why are there two references to Judaism? This double reference may be a slip of the tongue but it smacks of anti-Semitic animus. She may have wished to refer to either the Star and Crescent or the Koran of Islam. (Often, politicians use the “Big Three” of monotheism when discussing religious access.) Yet, she mentions Judaism twice about a case of a Christian symbol, which is suspicious.

Simon, of the ACLU, said approval of the plate could prompt many other groups to seek their own designs, and they could claim discrimination if their plans were rejected. That could even allow the Ku Klux Klan to get a plate, Simon said.
This is a true problem when allowing the state’s imprimatur to be lent to a cause or issue. The actual example (A KKK license plate) is highly unlikely, but often used when someone wants to shut down the free access side of the argument. “Should we let the KKK or Nazis do it too?” is nice and pejorative so as to make the idea seem ridiculous.

Normally, I would say Florida is wasting time and money on the idea. However, the bill has little chance of passing, given the recent history of similar plates. The best way to look at is to realize any day a legislature is arguing about irrelevant topics is a day they cannot pass new taxes.

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