Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Christian License Plates Cause Religious Gridlock

by Jake Mohan 

Tags: spirituality, politics, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, First Amendment, Christian Right, South Carolina,

A battle has erupted over religious freedom in South Carolina. Earlier this year, the state’s general assembly voted unanimously to begin producing license plates bearing the phrase “I Believe” and decorated with an image of a yellow cross superimposed over a stained-glass window. Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer even offered to pay for the plates’ production out of his own pocket.

Last month, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit alleging that the plate constituted a governmental endorsement of one religion over all others, and a clear violation of the First Amendment.

While many church-and-state cases draw a distinction between secular and religious people, this case is particularly compelling because much of the license-plate criticism has come from inside the religious community. Plaintiffs against the plates include a rabbi, the American Hindu Foundation, and three ministers, among them the Rev. Dr. Neal Jones, who penned a guest editorial in the State arguing that while “America is a nation of Christians, we are not a Christian nation.” Despite the barrage of hostile email received by Americans United—accusing the organization’s members of being nonbeilevers and condemning them to hell (among other nasty epithets)—religious people, in this case, are some of the loudest voices championing the separation between church and state.