Americans United for Separation of Church and State has
urged the Florida Senate to reject a bill creating two “Christian”
license plates for state motorists and warned that a lawsuit may result if the
measure becomes law.
SB 642 mandates issuance of a plate
depicting the crucified head of Jesus complete with a crown of thorns. It
also mandates a second plate featuring a large cross, a stained-glass church
window and the words “I Believe.”
“These plates clearly violate the Constitution and
basic fairness,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive
director. “It’s wrong for the legislature to favor one faith over
others. If this bill passes, it is almost certain to provoke a lawsuit.
“I am frankly shocked that any legislator would think
these plates are constitutionally acceptable,” Lynn continued. “It is deeply offensive
when officials play political games with the sacred symbols of any
Americans United, a Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties
group, has successfully blocked issuance of an “I Believe” license
plate in South Carolina.
A federal judge ordered the state to temporarily stop any steps toward issuing
the plate and indicated that local clergy represented by Americans United will
prevail in their lawsuit.
In its letter
to the Florida Senate, Americans United asserted that state blessing for two
license plates prominently displaying the symbols and images of the majority
religion “would offend not only Floridians who are members of minority
faiths, but also Christians who believe it is inappropriate for the state to
issue these kinds of license plates, because they co-opt the religious symbols,
images, and beliefs of their faith for the state’s benefit, thereby
demeaning those sacred images.”
The Florida Senate may vote on the license-plate measure as
early as today.