In God We Trust


I saw one of these in my neighborhood yesterday, and the plate frame prevented me from realizing it wasn’t a new kind of PA plate:

In God We Trust license plate
Thank the gods it’s Indiana–so far. Does anyone have specific thoughts on these? I understand that there are two major schools of thought about church/state interaction (the neutral view and the nonpreferential view), and the people who are urging the state to print these certainly fall into the nonpreferential category (though I don’t see too much openness to the concept of “In Krishna We Trust”).

Personally (I guess I will give my opinion), I think the nonpreferential camp is pretty silly. Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore have made an excellent case for the neutral intent of Jefferson and Madison, and any government treatment of religion (even nonpreferential treatment among religions) necessarily means that taxpayers’ money is being funneled into religions that they do not endorse or accept as true (think: Faith-Based Initiatives). Government funding of religious organizations or causes is no different from coercive tithes, which were, of course, a flagship issue for founders like Madison and average people fleeing religious oppression in Europe.

On an even more basic level, however, I think the nonpreferential treatment of religion is dangerous because any kind of supernatural claim, given enough support, can count as a religion and demand “equal” treatment from the government. Government funding should be merit-based (and free from religious influence), not dished out among people who have in common a love of vastly different supernatural beliefs.

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4 Responses to In God We Trust

  1. mikhailovich says:

    Are you really saying that plate designs are a form of free speech equal to that of custom license plate numbers?

    The fact that you can get a “NoPanties” license plate number for your car only but that you couldn’t get a similar plate design on the books for anyone who wanted it is evidence of the difference.

    When a new plate design is approved, it essentially becomes an item in the government’s “store” that anyone can purchase. This is no longer individual free speech; it has to be something that the government can distribute as a product.

    This is why the government would never sell racist plate designs–even though your free speech would allow you to create a racist bumper sticker or personal phrase to go on your individual plate.

    The same logic applies to the government remaining constitutionally neutral about religious matters.

  2. Brandon says:

    No. By your logic the state of California is anti-panties.

    There is a huge difference between the government not approving a message because it’s offensive and endorsing a religion. Church-state separation does not require the government to be completely blind to religion. Allowing religious messages on license plates only reflects on the government’s tolerance.

    They have NRA plates and plates for conservationist organizations. Neither reflect on government. The government has policies that both types of organizations disagree with.

    The government isn’t stopping anyone from putting a “Proud Atheist” plate on their car.

  3. mikhailovich says:

    I don’t think it’s that simple. Yes, signatures and funding are required for specialty plates. But like you said, more is required than just getting enough support: the government has to approve the message and make sure that it’s “okay” to appear on government-issued plates. The reason they wouldn’t allow messages like “God sucks” is that it wouldn’t just be the free speech of the majority that got signatures for the plate (like bumper stickers); it would be a reflection on the government itself, which is issuing the plates. Like everything else that has to do with government, I favor neutrality when it comes to religious messages.

  4. Brandon says:

    It’s my understanding that in order to get a specialized plate you need to have signatures from a few hundred people saying that they would buy the plate, then you need like a $5,000 deposit, before they’ll even print a single plate. Even after all that anyone who wants a plate will have to pay additional fees. The government isn’t really being preferential or non-preferential, they’re making you pay them to recognize a lame liscense plate.

    It’s true they won’t let you put anything you want on the plate. You couldn’t have “God sucks,” or “Bit me Jesus.” But thats more because they’ve got to be PC.

    I wish every Christian would drive around with one of these. It’d lower my taxes.

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