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Gary Tuchman | BIO
License plates used to be boring. Back in the olden days - in 1960’s Illinois in my case - every driver’s plate was white, and every plate exclaimed “The Land of Lincoln” on the bottom of it. And that was it. It was all pretty darn basic.
But times have changed. There are now so many vanity plates in this country that it’s hard to keep track of the types and the causes. Colleges, organizations, environmental causes, sports teams; there is an incredible variety.
There are also some controversial ones; including a “Choose Life” plate, which is an implicit denouncement of abortion. But there has never been a plate which endorsed a specific religion. Until now. Maybe.
South Carolina license plates used to be boring, but the state has now approved a new plate featuring a Christian cross, stained glass window, and the words "I believe." And a federal suit has been filed, saying it violates the Constitution's separation of church and state.
The backstory is fascinating.
Florida was the first to try approving a plate with a cross and the words “I believe.” But concerns over separation of church and state led to the legislature to reject the concept. Many South Carolina legislators were not amused by Florida backing down, and started talking about doing their own.
Normally, the way vanity plates get approved in the Palmetto State is an organization comes forward, pays 4 thousand dollars, and then usually the plate gets printed. Well, in South Carolina it was the legislators who came forward. Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer announced he would pay the 4 thousand dollars out of his own pocket - although he expects to get reimbursed by proceeds from sales of the plate. Representatives and senators approved the plan unanimously. Not one negative vote.
Many politicians in South Carolina say the issue isn't separation of church and state, but rather a freedom of speech issue. Why shouldn’t a committed Christian be allowed to get such a plate?
On the other hand, one might wonder, what about other religions having their own plates?
The lieutenant governor told me he has no problems with that. He says if Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or even Wiccans want their own plates, he would support their efforts. Nevertheless, there was no effort by legislators to approve any other specific religion’s plate; just the Christian plate.
Bauer also acknowledged he has no intention of loaning someone from another religious group 4 thousand dollars. He says he is willing to loan his money for the Christian plate not as the second highest office holder in the state, but as a devoted Christian, and he strongly believes there is nothing inappropriate about that.
But then there's that lawsuit. It was filed to stop the production of the plate, scheduled to start soon.
A Methodist minister in South Carolina who is one of the plaintiffs in the suit, says the plate is inappropriate. Rev. Thomas Summers says although the state is predominantly Christian, it offends him because the action by the legislature “promotes inequality.” He says it’s beyond him how any Christian minister “would not take offense at this elevation of Christianity over our brothers and sisters in other faith groups.”
Bauer disagrees, of course, and says he believes a major reason people would oppose this plate is discrimination against Christians. “I’m tired of seeing Christians back down in fear of a lawsuit,” he exclaimed. And then, with a smile on his face, he said if he were lieutenant governor of Florida, perhaps the plate would have passed its legislature, too.
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