8THEIST License Plate: Woman Files Lawsuit Over Vanity Plate RejectionBy: Erika Watts - April 18, 2014
A New Jersey woman has filed a lawsuit after the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) denied her request for a vanity license plate that reads “8THEIST.” The license plate was rejected because it is considered “objectionable.” After the woman discovered that her request would have been approved had it been a Christian vanity plate, she felt that her First Amendment rights were violated and eventually decided to sue.
Shannon Morgan applied for the 8THEIST license plate through New Jersey’s MVC website back in November. The system flagged her submission because the plate was deemed “objectionable.” According to the New Jersey MVC’s rules on vanity plates, “No personalized plate combination, which is considered offensive, will be approved for issuance.”
After her first submission was rejected, Morgan then submitted “BAPTIST” for a vanity plate to see if a Christian license plate would be rejected. Unlike the 8THEIST plate, this submission was not flagged by the system. “There is nothing offensive about being atheist,” Morgan said. “I should be able to express my sincerely held beliefs with a license plate just like everyone else.”
The Leesburg woman contacted the MVC to find out why her submission was denied when the Christian plate was accepted, but never received a response. Morgan eventually decided to file a lawsuit on the basis that her First Amendment rights were violated. She is being represented by a lawyer with the Americans United for Separation of Church and State group.
“The state of New Jersey is favoring religion while disparaging non-belief,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It simply has no right to do that. This license plate issue may seem like a small matter but it is indicative of a much larger problem–atheists are often treated by the government as second-class citizens.”
The lawsuit was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. In addition to suing for the right to be granted the 8THEIST license plate, Morgan also wants to be reimbursed for legal fees.
“Ms. Morgan is an atheist who wishes to display a New Jersey license plate that identifies herself as such. She is offended by the Commission’s decision to prohibit her from obtaining this plate,” the lawsuit reads. “The Commission’s declaration that this self-expression is ‘objectionable’ demeans her viewpoint.”
Interestingly enough, the New Jersey DVC was faced with a similar issue last year when David Silverman wanted to put “ATHE1ST” on a vanity plate. Silverman (posing with a retired “ATHEIST” vanity plate above) was initially denied the plate, but the decision was later reversed.
Image via Wikimedia Commons