Thursday, April 24, 2008

Merger Between Church and State?

The Florida Legislature is considering a national first: producing license plates with a distinctively religious theme.
Let's cut right to the chase:

The problem with the state manufacturing the plate is that it "sends a message that Florida is essentially a Christian state" and, second, gives the "appearance that the state is endorsing a particular religious preference," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

No kidding.

And this is not the first controversial plate. Florida, like Colorado and other states sadly, already has vanity plates whose proceeds go to quasi-religious, if not outright religious organizations.

More from the Channel 2 article:
Florida's specialty license plates require the payment of additional fees,
some of which go to causes the plates endorse.

One plate approved in 2004, displaying the motto "Family First," funds
Sheridan House, which provides family programs but also sees its purpose as "sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Bible" and "information about the Christian faith."

The bill creating the "I Believe" plate would also create an "In God We
Trust" plate to benefit the children of soldiers and law enforcement officers
whose parents have died. It also could face opposition as a violation of the separation of church and state.

An Indiana plate with the same "In God We Trust" phrase has been
challenged by the ACLU, but the courts so far have deemed it legal, arguing that it is comparable with other specialty plates.

This isn't the first time a Florida license plate design has created
religious controversy. In 1999, lawmakers approved a bright yellow "Choose Life" license plate with a picture of a boy and girl. It raises money for agencies that encourage women to not have abortions.

That generated a court battle, with abortion rights groups saying the plate
had religious overtones. But it was ruled legal, and about a dozen states now have similar plates.

A "Trust God" license plate was proposed in Florida in 2003. It would have given money to Christian radio stations and charities, but it was never

Earlier this year, a legislative committee was shown an image of a
"Trinity" plate that showed a Christlike figure with his arms outstretched. It
and two other plates were voted down.

The group asking for the "I Believe" plate, the Orlando-based nonprofit
Faith in Teaching Inc., supports faith-based schools activities. The plate would cost drivers an extra $25 annual fee.

And you guessed it, my religion is not represented on a state-pressed plate, but IS expressed in what someone chose to put on this Virginia plate.

(I'm a big fan of HP Lovecraft, but technically I am an adherent of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Marinara Orthodoxy if you please.)

People can put whatever they want on their cars. Yellow ribbons, Pink ribbons, plastic Jesuses, Dashboard Shrines, anything. That's perfectly acceptable self-expression. But the state should in no way ever be involved in producing religious iconography of any kind whatsoever at any time for any purpose. Once it starts, it won't stop.

Sinclair Lewis had it right: "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross. "

Buckle up, it's still gonna be a bumpy ride for the next couple years fighting the battle to keep Church and State separate.

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