A southern New Jersey woman has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that state’s Motor Vehicle Commission wrongly violated her First Amendment rights by preventing her from having a vanity license plate reading “8THEIST.”
The woman, Shannon Morgan, filed the suit on Thursday, reports the South Jersey Times.
Morgan, who identifies as an atheist, is represented in federal court by Ayesha N. Khan of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C.-based tax-exempt organization (Federal ID #53-018464) that has expended considerable time and energy attacking the tax-exempt status of religious organizations.
“The state of New Jersey is favoring religion while disparaging non-belief,” Barry W. Lynn, the group’s executive director (and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ), told the Times.
“This license plate issue may seem like a small matter but it is indicative of a much larger problem,” the ardent atheist also said. “Atheists are often treated by the government as second-class citizens.”
Morgan has proclaimed that the denial of personalized plate is based on religious bias.
“There is nothing offensive about being atheist,” she told the Times. “I should be able to express my sincerely held beliefs with a license plate just like everyone else.”
Morgan alleges that she was denied when entered the letters (and a number) “8THEIST” into The Garden State’s motor vehicle commission database. However, she claims, when she suggested the word “BAPTIST” for her license plate, the word representing a Protestant denomination was not identified as unacceptable.
According to the lawsuit, Morgan “believes that the commission’s decision to deny her a plate that reads ’8THEIST’ but to allow her one that reads ‘BAPTIST’ expresses a preference for theistic religious belief over non-theistic belief.”
Morgan has also said that she tried to contact the commission for an explanation but received no response.
“We review every request personally,” motor vehicle commission representative Sandy Grossman told the Times. “We review them for anything that’s offensive.”
Morgan has asked the federal court to force state officials to allow her to ride around advertising her pious belief that no gods exist. She also wants a guarantee that there is no viewpoint discrimination in future license-plate selection criteria.
Naturally, Morgan’s attorneys have also asked that they be richly reimbursed for their fees and expenses.
Grossman added that the commission has issued godless vanity plates previously.
“We have no objection and continue to issue plates with these types of configurations,” Grossman told the Times.
Last August, the president of American Atheists in Cranford, N.J. (pop. 22,625) successfully convinced the motor vehicle commission to reverse a decision denying the letter-word combination “ATHE1ST” for his vanity plates.
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