Religion

Woman Settles Lawsuit To Use '8THEIST' License Plate

| by Sarah Zimmerman
License platesLicense plates

A New Jersey woman won the right to display the vanity license plate 8THEIST after her request was denied two years ago. 

The Motor Vehicle Commission of New Jersey originally told Shannon Morgan her request for the plate 8THEIST "may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency," according to The Guardian. Morgan decided to test the state's policies and see if the plate BAPTIST would be approved. It was, and Morgan decided to take her case to court, saying that her First Amendment rights were violated.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a secularist advocacy group, worked closely with Morgan and filed the lawsuit on her behalf, according to The Associated Press.

"All Shannon Morgan ever wanted was for the state of New Jersey to stop disparaging her non-belief and cease treating her like a second-class citizen," said executive director Barry Lynn. "The lesson of this case is simple: The government should treat believers and non-believers equally."

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The commission is now set to pay Morgan $75,000 to resolve her claim. Additionally, AP reports that as part of the settlement, the following vanity plates or combinations thereof must be issued upon request: SECULAR, RATIONL, HUMANST, ATHEISM, GODLESS, HEATHEN, HERETIC, SKEPTIC, BLASFMR, REASON, EVOLVE, TRANS, LGBTR.TS, LGBTQ, PRIDE, QUEER, GAYPOWR, LGBTALY, FEMINISM, FEMINST, EQUALITY and 4WOMEN.

"Initially this was an oversight that was corrected immediately," said commission spokeswoman Mairin Bellack. "The plate was and is still available upon request. The [commission] has issued variations of 8THEIST upon proper request."

Bellack's assertion that the oversight was corrected before the case went to court is inconsistent with Morgan's account of events. She claims she sent a letter of complaint and made several phone calls to the agency that went unanswered. 

Laws on vanity license plates vary by state. Variations on the word "atheist" are also not allowed in Arkansas and many states refuse plates that "expresses contempt, ridicule or superiorly based on race, gender, politics, ethnic heritage, or religion."

Sources: AP, The Guardian / Photo credit: Flickr

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