Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me: Religious License Plates

The first commandment in Exodus focuses on having no other gods before Yahweh/Jehovah/God.  Some theologians argue this commandment does not dictate monotheism but commands the supremacy of Jehovah above other deities.  Some archaeological evidence even points to early Israelites worshipping a consort or wife to Yahweh named Ashera.

Nevertheless, the US is a secular country without a state religion.  So, our Federal, state, and local governments are hands-off theological questions, but I did find an issue to map:  religious license plates!

As of 2013, 21 states offer some type of religious license plates either with the "In God We Trust" motto or "God Bless America."  Six states (AL, GA, SC, FL, KY, and IN) offer these plates withe the word "God" on them at no extra cost over regular license plates.  In the other states, the Godly plates cost extra and usually benefit some charitable group.

Georgia is something of a special case.  It issues standard license plates without the "In God We Trust" motto but allows motorists to put a free sticker issued by the Georgia DMV on their plates with the motto.

Do such plates violate the Constitutional separation of church and state?  A lawsuit in Indiana led to an Indiana Court of Appeals decision upholding the state's "In God We Trust" no-cost alternative license plate.  Perhaps because of the slippery legal grounds for such plates, no state currently uses the word "God" on its standard plate.

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