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"I Believe" in "Equality" (February 8, 2012)

posted Apr 5, 2012, 8:17 PM by Neal Jones

        I don't usually get worked up over a license plate.  I made an exception a few years ago, however, when I joined three other ministers as a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by Americans United for Separation of Church & State against the state of South Carolina over its production of a Christian license plate.  The plate featured a cross superimposed on a stained glass and bore the words “I Believe."  South Carolina has over 130 specialty license plates offered by various private groups that drivers may purchase at an extra cost to advertise the group or a group's cause.  Such plates range from USC and other schools, fraternities and sororities, Rotary and other clubs to "Choose Life," "Shag," "The Hunley Submarine," "Parrothead," "Gone Fishing," and NASCAR plates.  But the "I Believe" plate wasn't issued by a private group.  If it had been, it would have been an expression of a driver's freedom of speech and freedom of religion, which are guaranteed by the First Amendment.  Instead, it was issued by the Legislature and, as such, it represented our state government's explicit endorsement of a particular religion, which is explicitly prohibited by the First Amendment:  government "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."  A federal judge agreed and ruled in our favor to halt the "I Believe" plate.  An addendum to this story is that since the court's ruling, a private group now offers the "I Believe" plate, which is perfectly constitutional.

         Another private group, SC Equality, which advocates for the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) residents of South Carolina, is now offering a license plate that I can personally endorse.  To obtain one, visit your local DMV office, complete an application, pay $25 (half of which goes to SC Equality), and wait for your plate to arrive in the mail within a few days.  I plan to buy one.  I want other drivers to see that not everyone in South Carolina is homophobic.  I want LGBT people to see that they have an ally who supports their dignity and worth as human beings.  What could be more American -- what could be more Unitarian -- than standing for equality?

        Speaking of being Unitarian, there are quite a few specialty plates that stand for our UU principles:  "Breast Cancer Awareness," "Public Education: A Great Investment," "Protect Endangered Species," "Keep It Beautiful," "No More Homeless Pets," "The Penn Center," "Reduce Reuse Recycle," and "In Reason We Trust."  So in addition to our bumper stickers, here's one more way to display what we stand for. 

        Of course the most convincing way to advertise our UU principles is to embody them.