S.C. House advances bill to create Christian license plates

Image by Faith in TeachingImage by plate.jpg This license plate was proposed in Florida, though it failed the pass the Legislature there. A plate similar to this one is currently working its way through the S.C. General Assembly.

Update Thursday a.m.: The story has been Farked. Will be interesting to see how much it snow balls. Anyone see it getting much cable news time?

Original story: The S.C. House of Representatives gave approval to a bill that would offer a new special license plate to South Carolina drivers. This one would have a cross on top of a stained glass window, along with the words "I Believe." The measure still has to receive final approval from the House, before returning to the Senate and then to Gov. Mark Sanford's desk.

The governor's office has said that they have no problem with the license plate, although The Post and Courier reports that the American Jewish Congress sent Sanford a letter threatening a court challenge if the bill becomes law.

On The Dallas Morning News religion blog (that tells you how significant this issue is, if they're talking about it in Texas ...), Bruce Tomaso shares what appears to be a press release from the American Jewish Congress, expressing its opposition to the bill:

In a May 20 letter to Gov. Sanford, AJCongress General Counsel Marc D. Stern argued that the "unconstitutionality of the bill is palpable." Stern argued that "it is long since settled that the government may not lend its support to one religion by permanently displaying on its own behalf the religious symbols of one faith."

"Private parties are free to display whatever religious or anti-religious symbols or slogans they wish on their vehicles, and perhaps even purchase ordinary vanity plates communicating religious messages," Stern said. "But S. 1329 creates special Christian plates by special legislation, with no assurances that other faiths could obtain similar legislative approval for plates of their faiths."

There are differing views among South Carolina legislators over the issue, as WCBD reported earlier this month, when the bill passed a House subcommittee:

Rep. (Lester) Branham says, "In my opinion, it's not the state promoting religion. It's allowing the expression of your religion." He says he fully expects it to be challenged in court if it becomes law.

"We cannot deny that that might happen, but I think you have to defend yourself. And in defending this, I think you'd be defending the Constitution. You're saying people have freedom of their religious expression; freedom to do it and freedom not to do it."

But Rep. (Joe) Neal disagrees. "I think that, in this instance, having the state to issue a license tag for one faith and not another could be interpreted as the state promoting a particular faith, and I don't think that's consistent with what our Constitution allows," he says.

Florida tried to approve a similar license plate earlier this year, but that stirred up a lot of controversy in the Legislature there and was eventually dropped.

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