Anti-abortion slogan okayed on Arizona license plates
Published: Tuesday January 29, 2008 |
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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An Arizona agency wrongly denied an anti-abortion group permission to print their message "Choose Life" on license plates, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday.

The Arizona License Plate Commission allows nonprofit groups to highlight their cause on license plates, but the commission in 2002 and 2003 denied the Arizona Life Coalition permission for a specialty plate with the "Choose Life" slogan.

The Arizona Life Coalition alleged that the denial violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

"Nowhere does the statute create objective criteria for limiting 'controversial' material, and nowhere does the statute prohibit speech related to abortion," Judge Richard Tallman wrote. "The commission ignored its statutory mandate and acted unreasonably in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."

More from the San Fransisco Chronicle (excerpts):

A federal judge ruled in Arizona's favor, saying a message on a state-issued license plate is a form of communication by the government, which is entitled to control its content. But the appeals court, in a 3-0 ruling, said the message is private speech by the organization that sponsored the specialty plate and by the owner of the vehicle.

"That means the government can't deny an application just because it objects to the viewpoint of the message, the court said.

"The License Plate Commission "clearly denied the application based on the nature of the message," Judge Richard Tallman said in the court opinion.

"He said the commission's job was limited to deciding whether groups meet the legal guidelines for specialty plates. That means deciding whether the sponsoring organization serves the community, is not "offensive or discriminatory in its purpose," and does not promote a religious message, Tallman said.

"The Life Coalition met those criteria by providing evidence of its community and charitable work, Tallman said."

Read the ruling, Arizona Life Coalition vs. Stanton, here.