Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vermont license plates may use Bible verses, federal court rules

New York City, N.Y., Oct 12, 2010 (EWTN News)

Custom Vermont license plates may use Bible verses and religious references, a federal court panel has ruled. The case was brought by a man who applied for a license plate reading “JN36TN,” a reference to the popular verse John 3:16.

The state of Vermont rejected the proposed “vanity plate” of Shawn Byrne from West Rutland, Vt. In 2005 he filed a claim that the state discriminated against him, the Associated Press reports. He had appealed a September 2007 decision by a federal judge rejecting the claim.

The three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in New York reversed the ruling. The court’s decision noted that Vermont allows its residents to put on their license plates expressions of personal philosophy and taste as well as inspirational messages and statements of affiliation.

However, the state rules bar religious references.

Allowed license plates include “BUTCHER,” BKEEPER,” “GOYANKS and “PEACE2U” but not “REV 3 20” or “UM REV.”

Under the rules, “GENESIS” could appear on plates so long as the driver insists it is a reference to the music group and not the Old Testament.

"The state rejected Byrne's message only because it addressed ... areas of otherwise permissible expression from a religious perspective," the appeals court wrote. "This the state cannot do."

The ruling also noted the uneven application of the state’s rules. The court said Byrne had shown his proposed license plate would have been approved if he had given the state a secular explanation like that he chose it because his name is John, he is 36 years old and was born in Tennessee.

According to the AP, the court emphasized that its ruling was limited to the state’s ban on religious messages, an area where the court’s guidance has been “extensive and clear.”

The state can maintain its ban on vanity plates which refer to scatological subjects, genitalia, illicit drugs, racial epithets and other objectionable material.

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