PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has vetoed a bill that would have allowed the creation of ‘Choose Life’ license plates in the state, the sale of which would be used in part to fund a Christian crisis pregnancy center.
The Senate had approved the bill earlier this month 23-13, following in the footsteps of the House, which passed the measure with a tighter margin of 40-26. Approximately half of the $40 payment for the plates would have been donated to the Christian organization CareNet, which provides free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, parenting classes and counseling for abortion-minded mothers. Specifically, the funds were to be directed toward “the alternative choices of infant adoption and Rhode Island’s Safe Haven.”
“The ultimate aim of CareNet and its network of pregnancy centers is to share the love and truth of Jesus Christ in both word and deed. As a result, the hearts of women and men are being changed by Christ’s love,” the organization’s website outlines. “In addition, those struggling with past abortions are finding God’s healing and forgiveness.”
However, as the plates had been seen as a means to reduce abortion in the state, abortion activists urged Chafee to veto the legislation when it reached his desk. On Tuesday, Chafee rejected the measure, but for a different reason than most expected: his assertion that the plates were an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
“The function of a license plate is to register and identify a motor vehicle,” he wrote in a statement following the veto. “Rhode Island residents may choose to purchase specialty license plates that support politically neutral secular organizations such as the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, the Friends of the Plum Beach Lighthouse or the Red Sox Foundation. Conversely, CareNet Rhode Island is an affiliate of CareNet, a private organization originally founded as the Christian Action Council.”
“It is my belief that state participation in the transmission of funds to this organization would violate the separation of church and state, one of the fundamental principles upon which our state was founded,” Chafee continued. “The framers of the United States and Rhode Island Constitutions constructed strong walls of separation between church and state. This bill compels the state to collect and distribute funds to an organization that advocates a particular religious and political viewpoint.”
However, pro-life groups in the state, such as Rhode Island Right to Life, state that the governor’s views are even further out in left field than his Democratic counterparts.
“The ‘Choose Life’ plate is already available in Massachusetts and Connecticut,” Executive Director Barth Bracy told reporters. “Governor Chafee’s veto reveals an extremism on abortion that is consistent with his position on the national board of NARAL, but is grossly out of step with other New England Democrats. A man who speaks of tolerance while stifling the free speech of those who disagree with him can only be regarded as a hypocrite.”
Rhode Island legislators can choose to override the veto with a three-fifths vote, but some state that it is unlikely that the effort will be initiated, even though the state is heavily Catholic.
Approximately 29 states have approved of similar license plates nationwide.