Nine months ago a federal judge barred the state from having religious license plates. Now, Attorney General Henry McMaster says a similar plate designed by a non-profit group is legal. Oran Smith of the Palmetto Family Council served as a consultant to the non-profit that applied.
The original plate was struck down by the courts because they said it was a government speech, basically. Government was saying: “Is this Christian message?” So, we are just a private organization, and we just simply turned around and applied for an “I Believe” plate as a private organization through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV, first thing they said was they were going to ask the attorney general his opinion whether they thought it would be legal to give us the plate. Last Tuesday afternoon the attorney general had a 25 page opinion that said ‘Yes.’
The plate under review reads “www.ibelievesc.net” along the top. It has a golden sunrise and on the left, three crosses symbolizing the site where Jesus was crucified. Smith says they’ve had opposition.
The people who sued the state over it, they were called the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and they said at the time if a private group applied for the plate, then they would have no problem with it. So, we expected when we applied that we would have no problem with it, but it appears, and they haven’t said this officially, but now they are concerned about our plate because it has a website as a part of the plate. They say if it’s promoting a website, or driving people to a website, then they may have a problem with it.
Smith says he doesn’t see the question of constitutionality in this, nor does he see the difference between “I Believe” and “www.ibelievesc.com.”
Smith says the plates are not official, but the Palmetto Family Council has a good feeling about the passing of the plates.
The highest hurdle was the attorney general, whether he would say it was okay. So, we feel like we have a pretty good chance now, but we haven’t gotten an official thumbs up from the DMV yet.
As for the DMV, Smith says he doesn’t see why they would turn the plates down, after McMaster has given his “okay.”
We looked at their guidelines, and there’s really nothing in the guidelines that would indicate any reason. They might come back and say to maybe tweak the design or something to match some kind of template or something. But, as far as turning it down, when you’ve got so many other messages that are private messages.
The most popular specialty plates in the state reads, “In God We Trust.”