The state of Georgia is holding a design competition for a new standard issue license plate. Three of the eight final designs, currently up for online voting here, display the words, “In God We Trust.” Voting will be open until July 8, and finalists will be announced July 11. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal will, on July 15, choose the design which will go into production in 2012.
Under current Georgia law, all free license plates include a county name. But as of January 2011, residents have been able to purchase a sticker reading, “In God We Trust,” for a nominal fee, which they may apply to their license plates, in place of the name of their county. The contest guidelines state that each entry must include “the county name or ‘In God We Trust’ label at the bottom.” Neither the contest guidelines nor the materials on the voting website indicate whether the designer’s choice of words on the license plate footer will impact the standard issue plate.
On June 28, 2011, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor sent a letter to the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue, Doug MacGinnitie, opposing the default inclusion of “In God We Trust” on license plate designs. In the letter, Gaylor compared official sanctioning of “In God We Trust” to official use of phrases such as “ ‘Praise Allah,’ ‘In Buddha We Trust,’ or ‘There is No God.’ ”
A June 28 editorial in the Athens Banner-Herald gives some background on the local political implications of this competition. The Banner-Herald, as well as other press coverage of this vote, assumed that the new standard-issue license plate would automatically include the phrase, “In God We Trust.” Seen in this light, the election acts as a referendum on Georgia’s religious identity. According to the Banner-Herald, it is “hard to envision Deal, as a conservative Republican, opting for a plate design without that phrase.”
Karen Ashley-Lucas, marketing coordinator for the Department of Revenue, was quoted in the comments of the Banner-Herald editorial above saying, “The ‘In God We Trust’ phrase is there simply to demonstrate what the optional sticker that is already available would look like on that entry. Confusing, to say the least.” However, in the press release announcing the online vote, Commissioner MacGinnitie said, “We encourage everyone to vote for their favorite design that best represents the state of Georgia.” Many Georgia residents feel that their religiosity is vital to their identity as Georgians, so even if the license plate policy will not change, “In God We Trust” is certainly influencing the outcome of this election!
Voting in this competition is not restricted to Georgia residents. Go to https://etax.dor.ga.gov/TagContest.aspx and vote for your favorite “God”-free design, since the vote, inadvertently or not, seems to be a vote on the inclusion of “In God We Trust.” The site will allow any computer to vote at least once per day, so keep coming back, and make sure to also let your secular friends and acquaintances in Georgia know about this online vote!
Thank you for your action!
by Eleanor Wroblewski