A New Jersey woman claims that the state discriminated against her when it refused to allow her purchase a vanity license plate that read “8THEIST.”
According to the lawsuit, Shannon Morgan went on to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s website and attempted to register the license plate “8THEIST” to reflect her atheist belief. It was rejected by the site on the grounds that “[r]equested plate text is considered objectionable.”
She then attempted to register “BAPTIST,” and discovered that the website did not flag it as objectionable. According to the lawsuit, she believes this means the state favors religion over non-belief.
The executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, agreed. “The state of New Jersey is favoring religion while disparaging non-belief,” he said. “It simply has no right to do that.”
“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,” he added.
In the lawsuit, Morgan claimed to have contacted the Motor Vehicle Commission’s Special Plate Unit to request assistance. The representative she spoke to claimed not to know why the “8THEIST” plate was “objectionable.” She was told that she would receive a phone call from the representative’s supervisor explaining the rejection within 24 hours, but no such call ever came. Letters sent to the Commission have yielded no response, either.
This is not the first time the Commission has rejected a vanity plate on the grounds that it considers atheism “objectionable.” Last year, the president of American Atheists, David Silverman (pictured above), attempted to register a plate that read “ATHE1ST,” but it was also deemed “objectionable.” The MVC eventually relented and allowed him to acquire the plate.
“The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s actions are mean-spirited and derogatory,” said Americans United for Separation of Church and State Legal Director, Ayesha Khan. “They’re also unconstitutional because the government cannot endorse belief over non-belief.”
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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