In an action guaranteed to cause a legal challenge, South Carolina will soon be offering license plates that feature a cross and the phrase “I Believe”:
South Carolina drivers will be the first in the nation to be offered license plates that carry the phrase “I Believe” and a Christian cross over a stained-glass window under a law that took effect on Thursday.
Critics have threatened to fight the law in court, saying the license plate represents an illegal state endorsement of religion.
The bill authorizing the plate passed the State House and Senate unanimously on May 22. It became law without the signature of Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, under the South Carolina Constitution.
“While I do, in fact, ‘believe,’ it is my personal view that the largest proclamation of one’s faith ought to be in how one lives one’s life,” Mr. Sanford wrote on Thursday in a letter to Glenn F. McConnell, president pro tem of the Senate and a fellow Republican.
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Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Jewish Congress said they were considering suing the state over the plate. Neither organization was aware of any previous state that has approved a similar plate. A proposal for an “I believe” plate in Florida failed in April.
“The whole issue here is that people are trying to get the state to endorse their religion, and that’s wrong,” said Dr. T. Jeremey Gunn, director of the A.C.L.U. Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “It’s almost as if there’s insufficient support, and they have to go to the state to get it.”
Senator Lawrence K. Grooms, the co-sponsor of the bill, rejected that argument.
“I didn’t see a constitutional problem with it,” said Mr. Grooms, a Republican who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “We have other plates with religious symbols on them and phrases like ‘In God We Trust.’ Just because it’s a cross, some very closed-minded people don’t believe it should be on a plate.”
Read it all here.
So, is this an accomodation of religious belief or a violation of the Establishment Clause?