North Dakota Won’t Issue Atheist A License Plate Reading “ISNOGOD”

But the state has issued license plates with religions messages, meaning the state seems to be applying a double standard.

A Fargo man says the state has violated the separation of church and state by rejecting ISNOGOD for his personalized license plate.

In an appeal letter to the state’s Department of Transportation director, Brian Magee said the state has allowed other vehicles to carry plates with religious messages, including PRZZGOD, ILOVGOD and TRI GOD, which he included photos of.

“(I)f the state only allows one point of view on religion to be expressed on its property (the license plates), then it is an endorsement of that point of view,” Magee wrote.

Transportation Director Francis Ziegler is out of the office until Monday, according to his office. Department spokeswoman Peggy Anderson said the request is in review and a decision will be made in a few days.

State law leaves approval up to the discretion of the Motor Vehicle Division. According to department documents, requests must include the meaning of the characters.

Anderson said the division rejects applications that are vulgar, hostile or prejudicial; advocate violence or lawlessness; provoke a violent response; refer to illegal drugs; or incite lust. When questionable applications are submitted, she said, a panel reviews them.

Though there is no actual “separation of church and state” mentioned anywhere in our state or federal constitutions, I agree with Magee that the state is wrong to reject his request of a license plate with an atheist theme. All religious beliefs should be treated equally under the law. But what bothers me about Magee’s goal in all this isn’t that he wants more freedom to pick a license plate message of his choosing, but rather that his goal is to limit the freedom to pick religious messages:

Magee proposes two solutions in his letter: the approval of his license plate application or the recall of plates with a religious point of view. He said he would prefer if the state chose the recall option.

So what Magee wants is less freedom. Not more. Which makes Magee every bit as intolerant and dogmatic as those who are opposing his atheist-themed license plate message.

Which is a criticism I often have of atheists. They aren’t seeking freedom for their religious point of view (or, more accurately, lack thereof) but rather the suppression of other religious points of view.

And, speaking as an atheist myself, that’s wrong.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • Steinberger

    As an atheist I see both groups, the religious and the atheists, each having a sub-group that wants to limit if not eliminate the other side. So what? Why is that more wrong for the atheist than the religious folk who in this instance, won’t let him have his license plate? Indeed, considering the huge influence and numbers and cash held by the religious, and the bias and campaign of misinformation against atheists that excedes that against any other minority (Blacks, Jews, Gays) I think that at least we atheists could cut the guy some slack and take up a position that backs at least most of what he is requesting.
    If the Supreme Court says it’s OK to sell violent video games to kids in the name of free speech (which I support) or gives free speech rights to corporations (which I think is another example of the big, rich and powerful grabbing more influence than their numbers honestly merit), then let’s come out for this poor North Dakota man fully and without picky reservations.
    Henry Steinberger

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