by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
(June 9, 2008) The faithful in South Carolina will soon be the first in the nation to be able to buy a specialty license plate that carries the phrase “I Believe” along with a cross and a stained glass window. But believers in the separation of church and state are already gearing up for a fight.
A bill authorizing the plate passed the South Carolina State House and Senate by a unanimous vote on May 22 and became law on June 5 even without the signature of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.
“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,” the Governor wrote in a letter to Glenn F. McConnell, president pro tem of the Senate and a fellow Republican.
The bill was sponsored by South Carolina State Senator Lawrence K. Grooms who has initiated several bills that help the state use constitutional law in order to insure the rights of people to display their faith in public places.
Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Jewish Congress said they were considering suing the state over the plate.
“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 to The New York Times. “It’s almost as if there’s insufficient support, and they have to go to the state to get it.”
Senator Grooms rejected their arguments. “I didn’t see a constitutional problem with it,” he said. “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.”
The bill directs the Motor Vehicles Department to create the plate and offer it for just enough money to reimburse the state for the cost of the plate, between $4 and $6, which represents a considerable discount from specialty tag prices ranging as high as $70. No organization will benefit from the sales because the plate was not sponsored by a particular group.
South Carolina residents currently have about 200 choices for specialty plates ranging from NASCAR tags to one for the Boy Scouts. They already have one tag that sports the slogan, “In God We Trust.” “Choose Life SC” will be available in the fall.
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