There’s a Storm Brewin’

15 12 2008


There’s a storm brewin’ in South Carolina. It’s not a hurricane, an ice storm, or even a thunderstorm. It’s a storm over license plates, of all things. And this one can be filed with the War on Christmas because I just can’t quite side with either party that has it’s panties in a knot.

The state legislature OK’d a new license plate that bears a stained-glass window with a cross in it and the words “I Believe” emblazened at the bottom of the plate. Predicatably, lawsuits have been filed, and a federal judge has put a stay on issuing the plates until the matter can be resolved.

This plate was to be optional. It wasn’t the standard issued to everyone. Those who wanted it had to request it. It joined dozens of other specialty plates offered by the SC DMV. If you so choose, you may express yourself in SC by having a license plate bearing the name of any one of dozens of colleges, Nascar teams, or charitable organizations. From what I can gather, any organization may request it’s own speciality plate by rounding up 400 pre-orders or depositing $4,000 for the start up costs to make a special plate.

Predictably, some are arguing that these plates represent an uncomfortable mingling of church and state. Were these the standard issue handed out to everyone, I would fully agree. But no one is being forced to have the plate, and in fact, any other religion that wishes to have a special plate need only come up with the aforementioned $4,000 or 400 interested people to have their own. One of the plates already available is for members of a Secular Humanist society. I might be missing something here, but if there can be a secular humanist plate up for grabs, I don’t see why one bearing a cross is off the list.

The folks who are against this plate trot out the ole “separation of church and state” argument, which I fully “get” and generally agree with. But, in this case, the state is not forcing this plate on anyone. From all I can see, they would be just as likely to issue a plate that heralded any other faith if so requested. This plate no more forces Christianity on anyone than a Nascar plate forces an Earnhardt fan to like Jeff Gordon. Were SC issuing this plate while refusing to consider speciality plates for other faiths, I would understand those who oppose it. Near as I can tell, they are not. Now, if Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist groups were denied a similar expression of their faiths, we would have a problem.

But what REALLY irks me are the people who have gone to the airwaves and the internet to voice their support for the plate. “But wait…” you are probably thinking, ‘didn’t he just say he thought the plate was just fine?” Yes, I did. But those up in arms that a judge has voiced concern over the constitutionality of the plate have trotted out the same tired old canards that get reused and recycled every time an issue like this comes up:

“They already took away the Ten Commandments and prayer in schools!” No they didn’t. You’ve every right, if it is your prerogitave, to display the ten commandments in your home, business, etc. I know them by heart because my mother had a copy, etched in brass no less, hanging over the toilet in the hall bathroom when I was a child. When someone tells you that you can’t have the 10 Commandments on your private property, let me know so I can join you in your outrage. But if you are so weak in your faith that you require a reminder be placed in every court room, post office, and federal building, then your problems go well beyond anything the government is likely to be able to assist you with. And no one is going to stop Little Susie from bowing her head in a moment of prayer before a meal, a test, or anytime she feels the need to go one-on-one with God. What has been challenged, and righfully so, is group prayer led by the teacher, the person making the morning announcements, or speakers at assemblies. Our public schools are there to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. Matters of faith are best left to the church and home. And if Little Susie doesn’t know to pray unless the teacher tells her to, then home and church haven’t done a very good job.

The other thing that burns me is the feeling that most of the people I saw on the news seemed to think this license plate was a wonderful way to show the world their faith. I’ve got news for those folks–if you need a license plate to show the world you’re a good Christian, you probably aren’t one. I don’t know what added cost was planned to get the “I Believe” plate, but SC already has a plate that many people of faith choose that reads “In God We Trust” and that plate carries an additional $24 fee. I would guess that 100,000 people in SC have that plate. Think of how many hungry people those millions of license plate dollars might have fed, how many children that money might have clothed or how many doctor’s visits those fees could have covered. But, I suppose, to some, it’s better that everyone in the carpool line knows you “believe”.