Although the General Assembly passed a bill in June allowing the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles to create a license plate with an emblem of a cross on it and the words “I Believe,” the state wound up in a court battle centered on separation of church and state.
The battle began when Washington, D.C.-based ‘Americans United for Separation of Church and State’ (AU) sued the state in U.S. District Court. AU claimed the state-sanctioned plate unconstitutionally endorsed one religion over another.
On Dec. 11, a federal judge issued a temporary order blocking the DMV from distributing, producing and marketing the “I Believe” plates.
Both sides said they were debating the right to free speech. The establishment clause of the First Amendment is generally interpreted as prohibiting preferential treatment of one religion over others by the government.
While the AU attorney Ayesha Khan said her clients wanted to keep the Legislature from injecting its voice into the religious arena, DMV lawyer Kevin Hall of the Columbia firm Nelson Mullins said the “I Believe” plate promotes speech and should be protected under the First Amendment.
U.S. District Court Judge Cameron McGowan Currie stated in her ruling that the balance of constitutionality tips decidedly in favor of the plaintiffs and granted an injunction, ordering the DMV to immediately stop advertising and marketing the license plates, refrain from distributing them and communicate the news to 400 people who have ordered them.
“I am extremely disappointed in the court’s ruling and feel the ‘I Believe’ license tag is completely constitutional,” Attorney General Henry McMaster said.
Source: Free Times