Monday, July 21, 2014
Court Orders Texas To Allow Offensive License Plate
Texas sells a variety of "vanity" license plates. These plates identify the car owner as supporting a particular cause -- and the plates cost more, with the state and the cause splitting the additional money. The Sons of Confederate Veterans wanted one of these vanity plates produced and sold, but the state refused -- recognizing that a plate with the confederate battle flag on it (see image above) would be viewed as racist and offensive by many Texans.
Unfortunately, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. They said Texas must produce and sell the plate. The court decided that Texas had discriminated against the viewpoint of those who wanted the plate, and that the state had no right to decide for a car's owner what view was appropriate and what view was not appropriate.
This decision could well open the floodgates to any kind of opinion being on a plate. In the past, the state had allowed religious plates (christian), but not plates promoting atheism (or other religions). Will the state now have to allow plates supporting (and funding) atheist and muslim groups? How about support and funding for right-wing militias or communists? Is there any group that would be considered too offensive for a vanity plate in light of this court decision?
I find myself in a quandary over this court decision. On one hand, I agree with the court's idea that the state has no business deciding what ideas are appropriate and what ideas are not. On the other hand, I don't think the state should be forced to be a party to offensive speech or images being promoted to the public. I personally view the confederate battle flag to be an offensive symbol of racism and hate, but if other ideas can be promoted on a plate, then offensive ideas should be allowed too -- that's the basis of freedom of speech which is guaranteed in our Constitution.
But maybe it's time to remember why we have license plates. Their purpose is to allow law enforcement (and witnesses to crimes and accidents) to be able to identify a particular car. They were never meant to be tiny traveling billboards advertising ideas or organizations the car owner likes. That's what bumper stickers are for. All a license plate needs is the name of the state issuing it and a series of numbers (or a combination of letters and numbers) that identify the particular car. Anything else is extraneous, and in my opinion, just makes it more difficult to read the identifying state and numbers on the plate.
I think Texas (and other states) should go to using a plate with nothing but the state's name and identifying numbers and letters -- and nothing else. I know the state gets a bit of money from selling the vanity plates, but that revenue is minuscule when compared to the state budget -- and the state could easily do without it. Let the organizations and ideas be promoted on bumper stickers.
That's my opinion -- but if the state chooses to continue selling the vanity plates, then I want to be able to buy a vanity plate promoting (and helping to fund) some atheist organization. What do you think?