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Religious car license plates

 Christian plates in Florida: 2009

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The "I Believe" plate revisited:

On 2009-APR-25, the Florida Senate passed bill SB 642. It contained authorization of two religious plates.

The first was proposed by Senator Ronda Storms (R). It is the same "I Believe" plate that was originally proposed in 2008:

Florida "I Believe" License plate
"I believe" plate

Surprisingly, the Senators ignored a temporary injunction placed by a federal district court on an almost identical design in South Carolina. In 2009-NOV, that injunction was made permanent because the plates were determined to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the  U.S. constitution.

The Trinity plate:

The Senate also approved a "Trinity" plate, proposed by Senator Gary Siplin (D). It may be interpreted in various ways. Some might infer it as a promotion of cruel and unusual punishment of extra-terrestrial beings with blue skins. Others might interpret it as promoting the death penalty, or as endorsing sadomasochistic activities. The plate has the name of the state and its motto, but no other identifying text that might have explained the significance of the image. Still, most would probably interpret the image as referring to the corpse of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ -- not his real name) having been executed by the occupying Roman Army circa 30 CE.


The Trinity plate

It shows what appears to be a bald-headed, blue skinned male with a short beard, wearing some form of headdress made of woven sticks.

At first glance, it might be assumed to represent the dead body of Yeshua of Nazareth. But this does not match the account in the Bible:

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Yeshua was described in multiple locations of the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) as a Jewish rabbi and an Orthodox Jew. Since he followed the Mosaic Code, he would have had a long, untrimmed straggly looking beard.
 

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There is no record or tradition of him having a bald head.
 

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It would be most unlikely that he had blue skin. The only blue-skinned humans that I have seen are the men -- and the occasional woman -- who work for the three person Blue Man Group -- a musical band. However, the trio's skin color is much darker and the performers appear to have no ears. So, one might conclude that the plate shows an image of a non-human, perhaps an extra-terrestrial.
 

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Prior to execution Jesus was flogged to the degree that his body would have been quite bloody. Yet no blood is shown on the image.
 

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Jesus is recorded as having a crown of thorns pressed on his head. That would have caused more blood to flow. Yet no blood is visible.

This second specialty plate design, is called a "Trinity" plate, although there is no evidence of God or the Holy Spirit present. That might make sense, because both the Holy Spirit and God are believed by most Christians -- with the exception of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) -- to be spirits, and thus invisible.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) sent a letter to all Florida senators urging that they oppose Bill SB 642. The AU argued that the bill would violate both the Establishment Clause and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Relying on the ruling in a U.S. Supreme Court case, Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe (2000), they wrote:

"By creating Christian license plates, the state would send the message to its own citizens that those who are non-Christian ??are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to [Christians] that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.?? 1

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League also spoke out against the plate designs.

Debate in the Senate and media:

As noted above, the designs were offered by Senators Ronda Storms (R) and Senator Gary Siplin (D). Many members of the Senate had never seen the images prior to the vote on 2009-APR-24. None were produced during the debate. Siplin simply stated: "It has a picture of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ."

Revenue from the plates would be directed to the Toomey Foundation for the Natural Scientists -- a group that promotes:

"... the acquisition, protection, and study of scientifically important land and environmental resources. The primary focus of the endeavor shall be in the fields of Archeology, Astronomy, Botany, Geology, and Paleontology."
Curiously, their website contains quotations from the book of Psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures, from a Roman Pagan philosopher, and a modern-day environmentalist. It contains many references to the theory of evolution. 2

During the debate:

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Sen. Ted Deutch, (D) said: "The issue is whether the state of Florida ought to be producing license plates with religious images on them. I don't believe that we should."
 

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Other senators expressed concern that they were beingasked to approve plates that they had not been able to see.
 

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Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami asked: "What if someone comes next year and decides to vote on something that has the devil on it, and horns ... horns on each side. I know that people are called the devil, but if the symbol of a devil is on it, I would not vote for that."
 

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Sponsor Senator Siplin said that the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University has a snake on their specialty plate, and the University of Miami "... has a duck or something on their license plate so I think we should have an opportunity for every citizen around the state to be able to purchase a license plate of their choice. ... If you don't like that particular license plate, you're not forced to buy it."

It would seem that most of the Senators should have felt an obligation to abstain from voting until they had a chance to actually view the proposed plates. Perhaps many did because the Senate unsuccessfully held a voice vote, a second voice vote, a voided roll call vote, and two quorum calls, before finally holding a vote that counted. The plates were approved 22 to 13.

The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper opposed the sectarian plates, saying in an editorial:

"Every vehicle on the road has many square yards of painted surface on which owners are free to display spiritual messages and pictures of Jesus, whatever he might have looked like. But that little square foot of state-supplied license plate is no place for such a specifically religious message." 3

A St. Petersburg Times article about SB 642 received many comments from readers. Some of the more amusing were:

bullet"Mike" wrote: "There is nothing wrong with that [plate design] - it does not mention Jesus (and the person pictured doesn't look as if he's from the Middle East) and there is nothing definitely religious about it. Gay men might quite like it too."

bullet"Susan" wrote: "Fine as long as I can have one promoting gay families."
 
bullet"Tracy" wrote: "I am so ashamed to live here."

Glenn Church commented in "Foolocracy: government by fools, silliness and unintelligent people:"

"Am I the only one who finds it oddly coincidental that while the country debates torture, Florida puts the image of the world?s most famous torture act on public property? Of course, torture didn?t work then. It gave birth to Christianity. Yet, it is supposed to defeat terrorism now. There?s a lesson here."

"Larry" at Dag Blog commented:

"Perhaps Senator Siplin ... and Republican Senator Ronda Storms need a quick refresher on the Bill of Rights. For their benefit let me give them some brief tutelage: the government should not be in the business of sanctioning religious paraphernalia. That is one of the things that separates America from Islamo-Fascist nations. While Saudi Arabia has the declaration of faith on it?s flag '(There is) no god but God. Muhammad (is the) messenger of God,' we in America don?t. While Iran follows strict Islamic law that enforces sexual apartheid, we in America don?t."

He proposed some alternate religious plates including:

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An image of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This is a rather ugly creature that some Atheists suggest is as likely to exist as any of the thousands of gods and goddesses who have been worshipped by humans. We are not too excited about this plate as it could be a safety hazard. People might be become fixated on the image and take their eyes off the road.
 

bullet

An image of the Jedi religion from Star Wars.

The DamnedIfGodExists blog countered with another Flying Spaghetti Monster plate. It at least has some text under the monster containing the blog's URL and might clarify the plate's meaning to some folks:

Ultimately, the two Christian tag designs were not passed by the legislature. The two religious plates were removed from the House bill, and the House approved the remaining secular plates 88 to 29. 4 The proposed designs died when the legislature session ended on 2009-MAY-01.

Later in 2009-APR, Senator Siplin said that he is considering trying again in the future. He plans to replace the Jesus image with the word "Trinity" and perhaps "... a cross and some nails and a dove." A dove is a traditional image of the Holy Spirit.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "OPPOSE SB 642," American Civil Liberties Union, 2009-APR-26, at: http://www.au.org/
  2. The Toomey Foundation for the Natural Scientists has a website at: http://toomeyfoundation.com/index.html
  3. " 'Christian' License Plates Derailed In Florida After AU Warnings," Americans United, 2009-JUN, at: http://www.au.org/
  4. Amy Hollyfield, "Florida Senate approves religious license plates," St. Petersburg Times, 2009-APR-25, at: http://www.tampabay.com/

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Home > "Hot" religious topics > Abortion > License plates > here

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Copyright © 2008 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2008-MAY
Latest update: 2009-NOV-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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