Ruling prohibits use of "I Believe" plates in SC - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Ruling prohibits use of "I Believe" plates in SC

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A federal judge says South Carolina must stop marketing and making licenses plates that feature the image of a cross and the words "I Believe."

A federal judge issued a temporary injunction during a court hearing Thursday after opponents said the plates violate the separation of church and state.

[Click here to read the full injunction]

"I think our arguments were very strong, our viewpoints were very valid. And we kind of look forward to the opposition's response to that. More material to work with. We feel really good about what's happened today," said Rev. Thomas Summers of of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which opposed the plates.

In court, an attorney for the Washington-based group said state lawmakers had approved what she called a "uniquely Christian" license plate, one that violates the constitution's Establishment Clause against state sponsorship of religion.

"Our goal is to get the government to stay out of the business. If a private organization wants to express a viewpoint on a plate, that doesn't present a constitutional problem in the way one arises when the government takes a position on religion," says attorney Ayesha Khan.

"The question really presented here is whether government should be allowed to exclude a religious message precisely because it's religious. Are we going to say it's okay in the public square to express a preference for a secular humanist position of "In God we trust" or a preference for a football team or a university? And then at the same time say any expression of a religious viewpoint is per se, impermissible," said DMV attorney Kevin Hall.

U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie said the case needs to be heard in court. In the meantime, the judge said the Department of Motor Vehicles cannot take any more orders for the plates.

Department spokeswoman Beth Parks said the agency stopped taking orders more than a month ago, after it collected the 400 needed to cover the cost of making the plates.

Parks said it took fewer than three days to get 400 orders online. She said they are in production, and none has shipped.

Attorney General Henry McMaster responded to the ruling with the statement, "I am extremely disappointed in the Court's ruling, and feel the 'I Believe' license tag is completely constitutional. I will strongly urge and recommend that the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Corrections immediately appeal this decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals."

"The 'I Believe' license plate is a clear example of government favoritism toward one religion," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The court drove home an important point: South Carolina officials have no business meddling in religious matters."

Currie's ruling said specifically that the DMV would have to remove any advertising for the plate on its Web site.

And in fact, the department changed its web page late Thursday afternoon.

Reported by Jack Kuenzie

Updated by Logan Smith

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