I first saw this story a week and a half ago over at Blast Off!, but I didn't blog about it then because Sinfonian had pretty much said all I had to say on it. But since it's in the news and there are a couple of juicy quotes from the legislators involved, I figure it's time.
First of all, here's the outrage, summed up in one precious little image.
Let me start by saying that I have absolutely no problem with car owners who want to turn their vehicles into billboards for whatever they wish to advertise. Bumperstickers, magnetic ribbons, signs, even those full-body paint jobs with the mesh stuff on the windows so the driver can see--all good. Hell, when I lived in Fayetteville, one person in town had transformed his/her vehicle into the Beatles' yellow Submarine.
But did you see what was missing from that list? License plates. They're official state-produced pieces of metal that you're required to have on your vehicle, and call me stolid if you will, but I sort of feel like they ought to be left out of the messaging business, especially when it comes to designs that are meant to alienate large sections of the populace. One legislator gets that, even if she didn't articulate her position as effectively as she might have:
Some lawmakers say the state should be careful. Rep. Kelly Skidmore said she is a Roman Catholic and goes to Mass on Sundays, but she believes the "I Believe" plate is inappropriate for the government to produce.Skidmore no doubt referenced the Torah or the Star of David because of the large Jewish population, but she could just as easily have singled out the Star and Crescent of Islam, or a picture of a Buddha, or Siva, or even, as Sinfonian suggested, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, because that's where this road ends.
"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."
Well, there, or with a license plate that says "I Don't Believe." And how might the bill's sponsor feel about that?
Free speech for me, but not for thee, or, some beliefs are more true than others, I suppose. Choose whatever paraphrase suits you best.
Bullard, the plate's sponsor, isn't sure all groups should be able to express their preference. If atheists came up with an "I Don't Believe" plate, for example, he would probably oppose it.
There's another angle to this story that's also bothersome. These tags cost extra, and the money goes to a group which is sponsoring the tag, as I've mentioned before with another offensive tag. The beneficiary of this tag would be a group named Faith in Teaching, and they're a little vague, on their website, on exactly what they do, but basically they offer funding to private, religious schools. They have a Catholic leaning, but acknowledge the existence of other Christian groups and Hebrew schools. Beyond that, no other groups seem to exist, nor do I imagine they'll get much in the way of funding if they come looking for some help. Wiccans, Muslims, and all others need not apply.
And that's the real problem here. Sure, it's a voluntary thing--no one is forced to pay the extra $25 to get the tag, so it's not like tax money is going to support groups or causes that taxpayers might have moral objections to. But the state is involved in the sense that it's placing a religious statement favoring one religion on an official state document without making it open for other groups. That's a violation of the Establishment Clause, and it's an affront to those who wish to live in a secular society.