FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has rejected an application by an atheist for a specialty license plate that reads “I’m God.”
According to reports, Ben Hart was granted the license plate when he lived in Ohio, but when Hart moved to Kentucky, his application for the plate was denied because it violated state regulations.
Hart consequently contacted the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which sent a letter to DMV Commissioner Rodney Kuhl to request that the decision be overturned.
“We request that the Division of Motor Vehicle Licensing immediately approved the personalized plate,” it read. “The Division’s restriction of the message because of the viewpoint being expressed violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
“It should be plain to see that a state government may not restrict an ‘I’m God’ personalized plate,” the letter continued. “An individual has a protected free speech right to select that message, as they would select a religious message or any other message.”
J. Todd Shipp, an attorney with the Commonwealth of Kentucky, responded to FFRF’s correspondence by holding firm and stating that the plate is not in good taste and could pose a distraction to other drivers.
“Without question, the use of ‘I’m God’ is not in good taste and would create the potential of distraction to other drivers and possibly confrontations,” he wrote. “We would have taken the very same position had the individual requested plates that read ‘I’m Allah,’ ‘I’m Buddah’ or ‘I’m Satan.'”
Shipp pointed to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlined that states have the right to reject certain plates because of its disagreement with the message it conveys.
“The Commonwealth of Kentucky considers specialized and personalized plates to be government speech,” he said. “Our plates carry the name of our state and any message on a license plate carries an indication of this state’s endorsement.”
FFRF says that it disagrees with Shipp’s assessment and believes that rejecting the plate because it might cause an issue with other drivers would be a heckler’s veto.
As previously reported, in 2013, New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles approved a vanity license plate bearing the moniker “ATHE1ST” after a clerk initially rejected the application out of his or her belief that the message was objectionable.
While over a thousand words are prohibited to be used on license plates in the state, “atheist” is not one of them, and DMV Spokeswoman Elyse Coffey said that there is “nothing offensive” about touting the denial of the Divine.