‘IM GOD’ plate denial gives FFRF license to sue

FFRF and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky (ACLU-KY) and filed a lawsuit on Nov. 22 on behalf of a Kentucky FFRF member denied a personalized license plate reading “IM GOD.”

Kentucky Division of Motor Vehicle (DMV) officials initially refused Ben Hart’s request early this year, claiming that the license plate message was “obscene or vulgar,” but then later saying it was because the plate was “not in good taste.” The lawsuit challenges certain portions of the regulations governing personalized license plates as unlawful, namely those that allow government officials to deny plates based on vague notions of “good taste” as well as those barring personalized plates from communicating religious, anti-religious or political messages.

Hart had a personalized license plate with the letters “IM GOD” displayed on his Ohio-issued license plate for 12 years prior to moving to the commonwealth.

“I simply want the same opportunity to select a personal message for my license plate just as any other driver,” says Hart. “There is nothing ‘obscene or vulgar’ about my view that religious beliefs are subject to individual interpretation.”

The ACLU-KY/FFRF lawsuit argues that Hart’s proposed license plate is fully protected individual speech, which Kentucky DMV officials may not suppress using content-based, viewpoint-based, vague or overboard standards.

“Under the First Amendment, government officials do not have the authority to censor messages simply because they dislike them,” says ACLU-KY Legal Director William Sharp. “And in this instance, personalized license plates are a form of individual speech equally deserving of First Amendment protection.”

“Hart has a right to select a personalized plate message that reflects his philosophical views, just as any other driver may select an individual message for their personalized plate,” says FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. “Just as others may select religious messages, Ben Hart, an atheist, has a right to comment on religion.”

The story went viral online, earning worldwide media coverage, with international news outlets such as the BBC, The Guardian, World Religion News, International Business Times, The Independent and Hidayatullah (Indonesia) each posting a version of the story online.

Freedom From Religion Foundation