The Kentucky DMV has previously approved pro-religion license plates

In November 2016, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky (ACLU-KY) together filed a lawsuit for a client against Kentucky’s Division of Motor Vehicles after a Kentucky resident was not given the desired personalized license plate. Ben Hart, the applicant, had a license plate reading “IM GOD” when he lived in Ohio. When he moved to Kentucky, he requested a license plate stating the same. The state DMV rebuffed all his requests for the plate.

Officials of the Kentucky DMV termed the message inscribed in the number plate “obscene or vulgar.” They later described the content as not of good taste. The matter was turned in Hart’s favor when Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, the Judge of the U.S. District Court, summarily rejected the argument forwarded by the state on March 31. Kentucky had said the transportation secretary of Kentucky is immune from any lawsuit. The DMV also argued that the case must be dismissed as the personalized plate messages could be regarded as “government speech.”

Attorneys of the plaintiff briefed the court stating that it has been established for a hundred years that the plaintiffs could bring any official capacity claim against any state official to instruct that official so that the person holding the official post does not commit any future violation of the federally protected rights of individuals, like the claims which are asserted in this specific case.

It is to be noted that the Kentucky DMV had earlier approved personalized plates of a religious nature. It had initially refused to Hart’s request in his application’s early stages quoting the content vulgar or obscene. When the client of FFRF and ACLU-KY objected and asked a second evaluation, the DMV termed his number plates a sign of bad taste. The consequent lawsuit challenges a few components of the regulations which govern the content of personalized license plates. The ACLU-KY and FFRF specifically focused on the amorphous concept of what is termed as “good taste.” The lawsuit also contests the many content centric limitations or viewpoints on the personalized plates which communicate political, religious or anti-religious messages.

For Hart, the matter is simple. He wants to enjoy identical opportunities as any other driver to select his chosen personal message on the car’s license plate. He pointed out that there is absolutely nothing vulgar about his view that religious beliefs are dependent on individual interpretation.

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