TESTING THE FAITH
Bureaucrats claim biblical tag inappropriately refers to 'deity’
A resident of Vermont who had his request for a custom “JOHN316” license plate rejected filed a federal lawsuit against Department of Motor Vehicles officials yesterday.
Alliance Defense Fund, a legal group representing Shawn W. Byrne, says the state agency’s action violates the Constitution.
“The Constitution does not permit DMV officials to discriminate based upon the applicant’s point of view,” said ADF attorney Joshua Carden in a statement. “Religious speech is not inferior to secular speech. The department’s actions are clearly unconstitutional.”
John 3:16 is perhaps the most famous verse in the Christian Bible. It states, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
According to ADF, Byrne submitted his application for the special plate on April 20. The following month, he received a letter from the DMV stating that each of his choices, including “JOHN316,” was “deemed to be a combination that refers to deity and has been denied based on that reason.” Byrne appealed the decision, but an administrative law judge upheld the denial based on the statute that prohibits combinations that refer to “deity,” among other things.
Though DMV officials rejected Byrne’s application, they approved other plates that used names and numbers referring to religion, the legal group says.
“DMV officials selectively censored Mr. Byrne’s expression,” explained Carden. "When officials suppress speech because they don’t like the message of the plate or the viewpoint it expresses, that’s illegal discrimination. …
“Not only did DMV officials enforce the statute unequally when they approved another applicant’s plate that also referred to deity or religion, but the statute itself does not pass constitutional muster. We intend to make sure that the DMV will no longer be able to discriminate against anyone based upon their religious views.”