Suit Filed Over NJ Refusing Atheist License Plate


Remember when David Silverman tried to get a personalized license plate in New Jersey that said ATHE1ST? They eventually relented on that but have now denied another resident a similar plate and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have filed a lawsuit over it.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State says New Jersey officials can’t approve vanity license plates with religious language while denying a resident one that reads “8THEIST.”

In a lawsuit filed today with the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, Americans United said the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission demeaned atheists and favored religion over non-belief when it rejected the specialized plate.

“The state of New Jersey is favoring religion while disparaging non-belief,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It simply has no right to do that.”

Added Lynn, “This license plate issue may seem like a small matter but it is indicative of a much larger problem – atheists are often treated by the government as second-class citizens.”

The lawsuit, Morgan v. Martinez, was brought on behalf of Leesburg, N.J., resident Shannon Morgan, an atheist. In November 2013, Morgan attempted to register for an “8THEIST” plate on the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s website, only to have it rejected because it is “objectionable.” She then entered “BAPTIST” as a proposed plate in the commission website, and that plate was deemed permissible.

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. Other attempts made by Morgan to get approval for her plate were ignored.

Is the state of New Jersey really this clueless? Apparently so, though I don’t expect that they’ll bother fighting the suit. If they do, something is seriously wrong there.

Comments

  1. eric says

    Is the state of New Jersey really this clueless? Apparently so, though I don’t expect that they’ll bother fighting the suit.

    I agree. However, this second case has peaked my curiousity over whether these (anti-atheist) decisions are coming from one idiot bureaucrat that administrators can’t fire/relocate, or whether the administration itself is behind it. So while the result of the case is a foregone conclusion, I do hope that the case reveals what is going on inside the NJ MVC.
    For the moment, I’m willing to be charitable and believe that the MVC administration does not really support these decisions, they just have the (fairly typical bureaucritic) problem of having an idiot civil servant who is gumming up the works an who will be difficult to either fire or transfer.

  2. blf says

    This is somewhat silly, but I can see 8THEIST being rejected because it sounds very similar to “ate theist”, which is perhaps properly “objectionable”, in a way similiar to EATBABY is very very unlikely to be approved, however tasty roast babies might be…

  3. Randomfactor says

    I’d like to know what comes up when you test the word “8APTIST.”

    California (at least at one time) banned numbers higher than 7 so that FORNICK couldn’t add an “8” to the end, and so on. I think they’ve relented on that.

  4. noastronomer says

    @blf

    The number 8 is also used for ‘hate’, as in H8. So 8THEIST could easily be construed as HATE THEIST. Personally I think Shannon Morgan should re-consider.

    Mike.

  5. eric says

    @2 and @4 – this rejection comes just a few months after ATH1EST was rejected. It seems reasonable to see a pattern here. At the very least, NJ MVC should be made to produce the rule and the reasoning they used to exclude this plate.

  6. caseloweraz says

    Unfortunately, unlike some other states, New Jersey doesn’t let you check proposed vanity plates unless you are a licensed NJ driver. However, comments at “nj-dot-com” indicate that ATHEIST and ATHE1ST were both issued. This suggests that some other interpretation of 8THEIST is operative. I’m not going to try and guess what it might be.

    Somewhat related, the York Dispatch displays 34 rejected Pennsylvania plates. They include ATH3IST, CHASEME, HELPME, IAMRUDE, I1II1II, NOHATRZ, UAH8TR, and SHUUTUP ( but not SHUTUUP?)

  7. says

    Here’s a thought experiment:

    Suppose my license plate reads “FUCK” and I drive by a car full of vacuum-raised kids, who have never been exposed to the word. Their little eyeballs will not be seared and they will not be traumatized, because they don’t know what the word means. If they ask mommy and daddy mommy and daddy can say “it’s just a random string” or they can explain what “FUCK” means. If they already have seen the word “FUCK” and know what it means it’s hardly going to corrupt them by teaching them something they don’t already know.

    I can’t see any reason at all to ban a word, especially since it’s either already in the viewer’s vocabulary or it isn’t, and in either case it’s not going to hurt anyone.

  8. eric says

    @6:

    comments at “nj-dot-com” indicate that ATHEIST and ATHE1ST were both issued.

    ATHE1ST was rejected, ACLU sued, NJ backed down and issued it. That sequence of events supports the claim of bias, it doesn’t undermine it. C’mon people, read the OP before responding.

  9. Michael Heath says

    “The state of New Jersey is favoring religion while disparaging non-belief,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “[NJ] simply has no right to do that.”
    [emphasis by Heath]

    Embarrassingly sloppy thinking by Barry Lynn. States don’t have rights, they have powers/authorities.

    Here Lynn’s actual argument is that the state of NJ lacks authority to infringe upon this individual’s right to purchase this license plate. What’s ironic and reveals Lynn’s idiocy on this matter, is that our opponents are always [falsely] claiming they are the sole protectors of individual rights and limited government. And then Lynn squanders an opportunity to illustrate the falsehood of the rights’ beliefs on this matter by failing to demand a limitation of powers by the state of NJ in order to not infringe upon the speech rights of an individual.

  10. Ichthyic says

    The number 8 is also used for ‘hate’, as in H8. So 8THEIST could easily be construed as HATE THEIST. Personally I think Shannon Morgan should re-consider.

    why? I hate theists as well. it’s a valid and supportable opinion. I can’t see any reason to find it more objectionable than “8FREEDOMFRIES”

    just because you get your knickers in a twist over it, does not mean Morgan should reconsider.

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