By Simon Brown
The governing board of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has just approved a new license plate with three crosses and the words “One State Under God.”
This is the same governing board that had previously approved tags with “God Bless Texas,” “God Bless America” and “One Nation Under God.”
Supporters of the latest religion-themed plate celebrated the board’s decision as a victory for freedom of religion and speech.
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According to the Austin American-Statesman, Jonathan Saenz of the Liberty Institute, who testified for the plate, said: “Private speech, protected by the First Amendment, should not be subjected to second-class treatment. Anyone who opposed this plate either doesn't know the law or has no respect for the First Amendment."
Not exactly. Americans United has about as much respect for the First Amendment as you can have, and we’re not happy about the “One State Under God” plate.
“No state ought to be involved in the promotion of religion on an officially produced government license plate,” Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told the Texas Independent. “If people want to make a statement about their Christian faith, that’s what bumper stickers are for.”
The new license plate may pass court muster since judges have usually allowed “ceremonial deism” – that is, generic references to a deity. But it’s still a bad idea. The founders thought government ought to stay out of religion. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in particular were very clear on that.
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I’m also skeptical that the Texas DMV board would approve a Muslim group’s request for a plate that says “In Allah We Trust” or an Atheist group’s plea for a “God is a Myth” plate.
The Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune, a Texas Freedom Network board member and pastor of the University Baptist Church in Austin, also expressed concern about the state picking and choosing among religious traditions.
“The truth is that giving government the power to play favorites with faith ultimately diminishes religious freedom for everyone,” Bethune said in a statement.
There is another side to this beyond the religious freedom issue – some say the plate is actually degrading to Christianity.
“I’m disappointed to see the state endorse a particular faith, even if it’s mine, and to see Christians trivialize our faith into slogans and symbols on the back of a bumper,” Bethune said.
A lot of Lone Star residents like the bumper sticker admonition, “Don’t Mess With Texas.” Maybe we ought to add, “Texas, Don’t Mess With Religion.”