State Plate Grates: Kentucky Government Proposes ‘In God We Trust’ License Tags

There is trouble brewing in Kentucky once again. This time, the state government plans to offer new license plates for those who want to outwardly express their belief in God.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet announced plans to make available two standard-issue license plates next year – the traditional one that uses the state slogan “Unbridled Spirit,” and a new one that adds the words “In God We Trust.”

These tags will be the only two options available for Kentuckians for the basic price of $21. If drivers want to purchase a specialty plate for various causes, schools and organizations, those are available for a premium price.

The cabinet said the new plates will be available for 2011.

“The cabinet often receives comments from people out in the state expressing interest in having something like this,” cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “The cabinet believes there's a sizable group of people who would like to have this choice.”

By mid-January, 95,000 versions of the “In God We Trust” plates will be ready for purchase. (In 2010, 542,000 vehicle registrations were renewed in the first two months of the year.)

Wolfe told the newspaper that there are no church-state concerns with the new plate. “In God We Trust” is the national motto, he said, and motorists can choose an alternate plate for the same price.

I don’t know if Wolfe is right about the legal issue. Courts do sometimes uphold generic expressions of religion. But regardless, the proposed new plate is a bad idea.

The Rev. Paul Simmons, president of the Louisville Americans United Chapter, explained.

“It's the kind of deism, a general God, that's offensive to people who take religion seriously, and to those who take separation [of church and state] seriously,” he told the Courier-Journal.  “I dislike this sort of bumper-sticker, license-plate religion.”

Simmons is absolutely right. It’s unnecessary for the state to create this special plate. Those who are truly religious don’t need the government’s help to make that point. It’s easy enough to affix a bumper sticker or other faith symbol on your car – without assistance from the state.

Plus, the Constitution requires the government to remain neutral on religion, and issuing these tags is certainly not a good example of that.

You’d think Gov. Steve Beshear and his administration would have done enough to promote religion this month already. He has touted his plan to provide tax incentives – as much as $37.5 million -- for a fundamentalist Christian theme park featuring a full-scale version of Noah’s ark. And he displayed in the governor’s mansion a Nativity scene distributed by the divisive and militantly sectarian Catholic League.

It’s clearly past time for Gov. Beshear and his administration to drop the religious crusade and start honoring the constitutional separation of church and state.

P.S. While things may be disappointing in Kentucky, we did receive some good news out of New Jersey. A court has ordered Point Pleasant Beach to discontinue government-led sectarian invocations at municipal council meetings until a ruling can be made on the prayer policy’s constitutionality.