Court Rules Against South Carolina's 'Christian' License Plates
Americans United Says Decision Reminds Officials Of Their
Duty To Uphold Separation Of Church And State
A federal district court ruled today that a special
Christian license plate mandated by the South
Carolina legislature violates the constitutional
separation of church and state.
U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie held that the
plate, which was to feature a large yellow cross, a stained-glass window and
the words “I Believe,” clearly gives favored government treatment to one faith.
In a summary judgment ruling, she ordered state officials not to issue the
plate. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which
served as counsel in the case, praised the decision.
“This is great news,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans
United executive director. “Government must never be allowed to express favored
treatment for one faith over others. That’s unconstitutional and un-American.“Some officials seem to want to use religion as a political
said. “That’s an appalling misuse of governmental authority, and I am thrilled
that the judge put a stop to it.”
Americans United brought the Summers v. Adams legal
challenge in June 2008 on behalf of four local clergy -- the Rev. Dr. Thomas A.
Summers, Rabbi Sanford T. Marcus, the Rev. Dr.
M. Knight and the Rev. Dr. Neal Jones as well as the Hindu American Foundation
and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
In legal briefs, AU asserted that the “I Believe” license plate was unlike
other specialty tags offered by the state. The measure authorizing the special
plates was passed unanimously by both houses of the legislature, with the
active support of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. Americans United also pointed out that some legislators openly admitted that
they would not vote for similar plates for minority faiths.
In finding the sectarian plate unconstitutional, Judge Currie held, “Such a
law amounts to state endorsement not only of religion in general, but of a
specific sect in particular.” The judge noted that legislators and other state officials haveunnecessarily drawn the state into an expensive
“Whether motivated by sincerely held Christian beliefs or an effort to
purchase political capital with religious coin, the result is the same,” Currie
wrote. “The statute is clearly unconstitutional and defense of its
implementation has embroiled the state in unnecessary (and expensive)
(Read the full decision here: http://www.scd.uscourts.gov/)
Americans United Legal Counsel Ayesha N. Khan was pleased with the court’s
“Government must never be allowed to play favorites when it comes to
religion,” said Khan. “That’s a fundamental constitutional rule, and I am
delighted that the judge hasreminded South Carolina officials
of that fact.”