Because we moved our residence last year back into Indianapolis/Marion Country from the previous location in Hamilton County, I had to get a new license plate this year. When the renewal time arrived, I had to go to the BMV branch which was not as bad an experience as I thought it might be. The workers were courteous and prompt, but I was told I needed a new plate.
Then came my choice: the generic Indiana plate with the web address of the state government, or one of the new “In God We Trust” plates. When I asked if there was extra cost for that plate (like there is for other specialty plates), I was told, “No, it is the same price as the generic plate,” so I went for the “In God We Trust” license plate. Frankly, I don’t know if I would have paid extra for it, but I liked it a lot more than the generic plate which is rather plain. Given the choice of having the state government’s web site or the “In God We Trust” logo – I went with the latter.
Now there is trouble brewing in Indiana over those plates. The ACLU, which often does a good job of defending important civil rights, has decided to sue the state over those plates. Why? Because they don’t cost any more money than the basic plate. The argument seems to be that the state is improperly supporting religious values by not charging its citizens more for having that plate on our cars.
I must be missing something here. No one is being forced to use the “In God We Trust” plates, it is a choice. If the state treated these plates as specialty plates, to whom would ACLU want the money to go? Certainly the government is not allowed to support any churches, so the money could not go there. And who would choose which religious groups should receive the funds? It makes more sense to treat these plates as an option for people to choose, without extra cost.
More importantly, I can’t see that having “In God We Trust” license plates as a choice is a violation of anything. Too many people in our country make the false assumption that “separation of church and state” means that the government can never do anything religious. In truth, the phrase “separation of church and state” does not exist in the Constitution, it is a philosophy or interpretation, not an actual statement in the Constitution or Bill or Rights. What the Bills of Rights actually says is that government cannot either establish or prohibit religious institutions. The government, in order words, is to remain neutral. This means we don’t have a state church, supported by taxes. Neither is the government to interfere with any churches or other religious institutions.
Today that neutrality is being misinterpreted by many into an anti-religious, purely secular approach. This latest lawsuit as another example of that misguided notion. I am not a constitutional attorney, so I can only say this: I am keeping my license plate.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner