Here in Indiana, there has been a battle going for many years about what you can put on a license plate. Personalized plates are legal here, but they must meet three criteria:
*They cannot carry a connotation offensive to good taste or decency.
*They cannot be misleading.
*The BMV (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) cannot consider it improper.
In 2013 when the BMV refused to allow a motorist to have a plate that just had “OINK” written on it, the ACLU sued. Almost any religious message has been considered offensive and improper, so “Jesus Saves” has been rejected and having the name of a church has been rejected. These cases have been local because no one wanted to go to court until this February when Chris Bontrager of Goshen was told he couldn’t put “ATHEIST” on a plate. The ACLU got involved again, and on March 20 Bontrager got his plate.
The question now becomes why an atheist should be allowed to put his belief system on the plate when no one else has been given the same privilege. The answer may simply be that no one asked, but you can be sure there will be people jumping on the wagon at this point, and all kinds of messages will be suggested.
Part of the problem here is the question of religious pluralism. If “CHRISTIAN” can’t be put on the plate because it is offensive to Hindus, Muslims, or Atheists, why can’t the same logic apply to “ATHEIST.” Stay tuned.
–John N. Clayton © 2017