Michigan Protects Children From ‘WAR SUX’ License Plate


Ruth Johnson, Michigan’s utterly ridiculous Secretary of State (seriously, she would need a promotion to get to be an idiot), has decided that a man can’t have a license plate that says WAR SUX because it might have a negative impact on children who see it. I really wish I was making this up.

The state of Michigan is defending its rejection of an anti-war license plate, saying children riding in cars need to be protected from seeing “WAR SUX.”

Attorneys for the secretary of state’s office asked a judge this month to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses officials of violating the First Amendment by broadly controlling speech. David DeVarti, a Washtenaw County man, wanted the six-letter plate but was turned down.

In a recent filing in Grand Rapids federal court, the state, among other reasons, said the plate would be offensive to children who amuse themselves by reading plates on passing vehicles.

“And because vehicles often travel in residential neighborhoods, youth may be exposed to license plates from their yards or driveways,” said Ann Sherman, an assistant attorney general.

“Courts have often upheld legislation aimed at protecting the physical and emotional well-being of youth, even where First Amendment rights are concerned.”

You can read the motion to dismiss here. Some of the language will make you laugh out loud. They actually claim that the word “sux” is harmful to children because it’s profane and they make an argument so broad that, if followed, would mean that the government could censor anyone who uses the word in any way:

Second, many young children of reading age ride in vehicles and are unwillingly exposed to license plates on other vehicles. They sometimes amuse themselves by reading or playing games with license plates. And because vehicles often travel in residential neighborhoods, youth may be exposed to license plates from their yards or driveways.

Courts have often upheld legislation aimed at protecting the physical and emotional wellbeing of youth, even where First Amendment rights are concerned. For the same reasons schools may refrain from publishing speech that is ungrammatical, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences,” the Secretary of State should be able to restrict the use of offensive words on license plates that are viewed by immature audiences.

The precedents cited involve whether a school can censor t-shirts with profanity on them, which have nothing to do with this case. The ACLU is representing the plaintiffs (there are two of them).

Comments

  1. jnorris says

    It is obvious that the children of Michigan never get into junior high school and thus never see or hear the word ‘sux’ .

  2. matty1 says

    How in the name of buggering hell is sux profanity? Does the concept cover any variant on any word that could possibly refer to a sexual act? Will people start banning words like job and finger next?

  3. says

    At first I thought they might make the argument that an anti war message could harm the children of SMs in the military, but I see they opted for the even dumber argument.

  4. Jordan Genso says

    For the same reasons schools may refrain from publishing speech that is ungrammatical, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences
    [emphasis mine]

    Maybe their argument is that it would be fine if it was “SUCKS”, but “SUX” is just too poorly written.

  5. Ellie says

    How about WAR HOOVERS? Can I still say, “Teach your grandmother to suck eggs,” in Michigan?

  6. says

    Stuff like this reaffirms my view of America is a warrior culture. Since this is real life, rather than fantasy or sci-fi fiction, I should probably make it clear that I think it’s a bad thing. I’m reminded of the flavor text on an old magic card: “Politics is like a game. Move a stone here, move a stone there. Except sometimes the stones bleed.”

  7. Deacon Duncan says

    If I lived in Michigan, I might be tempted to exercise my First Amendment right to display a bumper sticker that says “JOHNSON SUX”. The kids would just have to toughen up.

  8. John Pieret says

    jnorris @ 1:

    It is obvious that the children of Michigan never get into junior high school and thus never see or hear the word ‘sux’ .

    Heck, I went to Catholic elementary schools (ruler wielding nuns and all) and we knew what “sucks” meant.

    blf @ 6:

    There is, at exhibit 4 of the brief Ed linked to, a list of prohibited license plates. I don’t see MOR WAR or MORE WARS but, amusingly, MERKIN is. Apparently, Michigan is anti-USA!

    Incidently, there is a second plaintiff who wanted INF1DEL and was denied it because of what the state calls an administrative oversight.” The state issued that plate just before he brought suit but INDF1DEL and INFIDEL are still on the banned list the state gave the court.

  9. says

    They actually claim that the word “sux” is harmful to children because it’s profane

    A pure unsullied child won’t know what “SUX” means, so it won’t sully them – it’ll just be 3 letters to them. What they’re worried about, apparently, is already sullied children getting a bit more sullied? That’s called “growing up”

  10. Michael Heath says

    the state, among other reasons, said the plate would be offensive to children who amuse themselves by reading plates on passing vehicles.

    I bet Ruth Johnson never even provided a citation that “WAR SUX” was found to be offensive by children. I’d bet money children who can read would overwhelmingly find this plate amusing. So, a killjoy for no reason except to up her creds in the culture war.

  11. matty1 says

    Children tend not to be offended by ‘bad’ words, it is adults who get offended when children start using those words and the adults start panicking that “they’re growing up too fast”. I suspect this is all linked to the myth of the golden age in the mid 20th Century when along with all women being happy housewives and everyone going to church it was possible to leap from innocent six year old to 25 and married with no in between stages.

  12. cgm3 says

    Well, the kids will just have to stop reading license tags if there are some they may find offensive. That’s just a logical extension of the “If you find a prayer posted in a public venue and it offends you, just don’t look at it” philosophy, so they should have no objection

    {cue gales of hysterical laughter from the FTB readership]

  13. caseloweraz says

    The last time, IIRC, it was the great state of Georgia. These license plate standards always seem to be both absurd and inconsistent.

    I wonder how choices like WAR SUKS or WAR SUKZ would fare.

    How about WAR BAD or HATE WAR ?

    Or maybe get it across by reference: WAR-HUH! *

    * (Good God, Y’all)

  14. caseloweraz says

    “Drivers cannot avoid an offensive word on a license plate in front of them because they cannot safely avert their eyes. And physically avoiding the plate by changing lanes may not be possible,” she said.

    And, as we all know, Michigan drivers are unfamiliar with the word “sucks” and its variations. /sarc

    Talk about grabbing at straws!

    But those wishing to avoid the purportedly offensive plates might simply follow at a greater distance.

  15. matty1 says

    I’m not sure staring at the licence plate of the car in front is the safest way to drive anyway, I was taught to be aware of everything that might affect me and keep my gaze moving not fix on one thing.

  16. daved says

    Heard a story on the radio yesterday about an ardent college sports fan (don’t recall what state he lived in) who really hated Missouri, and got a plate that read (more or less) MIZZOUSUX. This continued for a couple of years until some busybody complained that it was obscene and the state motor vehicle registry tried to pull the plate.

    The plate holder sued, saying that “sucks” is also defined by Webster’s to mean something that is bad or unpleasant. The courts agreed with him and he got his plate back.

  17. Sastra says

    matty1 #2 wrote:

    Does the concept cover any variant on any word that could possibly refer to a sexual act? Will people start banning words like job and finger next?

    That would blow.

    Back when I was in college the phrase was “that sucks dick” and it eventually got shortened. I wonder if most kids today know that, or ever use the original full version?

  18. magistramarla says

    This reminds me of what happened to my son about 15 years ago. He was kicked out of his boy scout troop just before finishing the work on his eagle badge because he repeated what he had heard his sister’s boyfriend saying. It was “The Cowboys suck”.
    We were told that he was kicked out because the troop had a zero tolerance for cursing. Cursing???
    I was a teacher, and I heard much, much worse in my son’s school every day. It seemed much worse to me to turn the boy against the organization and hurt him after he had spent many, many years working to get to the level that he had attained.
    This is why our family stopped supporting the boy scouts even before we stopped attending church.
    None of the grandsons have joined, either.

  19. coragyps says

    What Sastra said. “That sucks” was pretty fucking obscene in 1965 or 1970, but it got better as time went on. “Friggin” or “frikkin” as euphemisms for “fucking” were also very much Naughty Words back then, and even “crap” would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap in high school.

    And war does suck.

  20. jameshanley says

    Thank agnostic-god(s) that I got my WRSWLS licence plate back when that Democrat Granholm was SecState and Michigan was still a delightfully perverted place (I miss the old state-subsidized street corner abortion booths).

  21. poose says

    Oh, my giddy aunt, this is beyond stupid.

    Many moons ago I had a pretty cool crotch rocket, a Yami RZ350. Anyone in the know will look at this sideways and go WOW. The only thing that trumped it was it’s big brother-the then totally unobtainable YRZ500R, aka “Satan’s Moped”.

    And yeah, I was justifiably proud of my bitch from Hel. So much so that I did the whole “vanity plate” thing too.

    Since the RZ was a two-stroke (nothing says red-line quite like one at 14,000 rpm) and it’s power band did’t actually start until 6K I named her BUZZZZ.

    Did I offend or warp any children? Godesss, I hope so. Otherwise, what’s the point?

  22. Jordan Genso says

    @27 jameshanley

    Granholm was attorney general prior to being governor, but I don’t think we’ve had a Democratic SoS in a while. It was probably Candice Miller who turned the blind eye to your shenanigans.

  23. nellwebbish says

    Wonder how many plates in MI already contain the letters SUX just due to the random generation process.

  24. John Pieret says

    inquisitiveraven @ 26:

    Thanks. I figured it had some “bad” connotation but couldn’t resist poking fun at the state.

    But if someone wanted a plate with MERKIN on it, they’d have a hard time defending refusing it on the basis that young children would be somehow corrupted by it.

  25. jameshanley says

    @Jordan Genso: Why ruin a joke with pedantry? (OK, that’s my cheap way of admitting I forgot she was AG instead of SoS.)

    @Sastra: War Swallows, which seems the next logical progression from War Sux.

  26. Sastra says

    @jameshanley:

    Thank you! I’d say I feel stupid for not getting it, but nobody else I showed it to could figure it out either. It’s not as obvious as the one in the OP. My guess is that you could get it passed even under the current Michigan administration.

  27. coragyps says

    Just a minute here for a reality check – are there actually children in the USA that are so very underpriviledged that they are forced to read license plates instead of electronic devices in their own vehicles?

  28. Donnie says

    @25: coragyps

    I remember saying, “That sucks” in front of my Mom back in the late 70s in California. She told me not to say that because it was obscene/dirty. I asked her, “Why? Why was it obscene/dirty?” For me, it was a synonom for “bad”. She refused to answer me, so I told her that I would continue to say it until she told me specifically why it was obsene/dirty. That summarizes my relationship with my mother.

  29. caseloweraz says

    James Hanley: @Sastra: War Swallows, which seems the next logical progression from War Sux.

    That might work in Michigan, but not in California. The government could construe it as a veiled threat to Capistrano.

  30. eric says

    At first I thought they might make the argument that an anti war message could harm the children of SMs in the military, but I see they opted for the even dumber argument.

    IANAL but IMO…

    …its got to be a lot legally smarter to go after the ‘sux’ than the anti-war content. And, if Michigan has turned down requests for other plates with ‘sux’ on them in the past, I can see this rejection being upheld in court. OTOH, if there are other ‘sux’ plates already approved in Michigan, this decision is going to get slapped down hard.

  31. Abby Normal says

    Sastra Asked:

    Back when I was in college the phrase was “that sucks dick” and it eventually got shortened. I wonder if most kids today know that, or ever use the origin al full version?

    They absolutely do, though typically “donkey” is inserted, giving it some lovely alliteration.

  32. Jordan Genso says

    @34

    Now I feel dumb. I didn’t catch that it was a joke. I should’ve, since it was obvious, but it was plausible enough that my first impression was that it was true.

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