Vanity plates and atheism just don’t mix, apparently - at least not in New Jersey.
In August, American Atheists' President David Silverman requested a plate reading “ATHE1ST,” only to have the request rejected on the grounds that it was “offensive.” When he appealed the decision, New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission changed their minds and revoked the decision, which they chose to refer to as a “clerical error.”
New Jersey resident Shannon Morgan encountered a similar problem in November. Unaware of Silverman’s troubles with the Motor Vehicle Commission, Morgan requested a vanity plate reading “8theist.” And, just as Silverman’s first request had been denied, so was Morgan’s turned down, this time on the grounds of being “objectionable.”
Interestingly enough, Morgan’s subsequent request for a plate reading “BAPTIST” went through without a problem.
Although Morgan has reached out to the MVC concerning their decision, they have failed to return her calls; she also sent a letter to the MVC, which also produced no results.
“There is nothing offensive about being atheist,” Morgan said. “I should be able to express my sincerely held beliefs with a license plate just like everyone else.”
Because the MVC neither approved the plate, nor provided a compelling reason to deny the plate, Morgan decided to take further action. Yesterday, backed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, she filed a federal lawsuit against Raymond Martinez, the chair of the New Jersey MVC.
“The state of New Jersey is favoring religion while disparaging non-belief,” wrote Americans United Executive Director Rev. Barry W. Lynn.
“It simply has no right to do that,” Lynn continued.
Lynn added that Morgan’s problem in obtaining her vanity plate is indicative of a larger problem – that “atheists are often treated by the government as second-class citizens.”
Furthermore, as AU states in the lawsuit, by refusing to grant license plates that identify the driver as an atheist, the MVC is “discriminating against atheist viewpoints and expressing a preference for religion over atheism.”