New Jersey rejects atheist license plate, approves Baptist one

I wish this stuff would just stop happening, and that people would read the U.S. Constitution. On the other hand, if it did stop, what would I have to kvetch about.

Thanks to several readers who sent various links to the story, which appears to be genuine. According to HuffPo, a New Jersey woman applied for an atheist license plate and was turned down. As a controlled experiment, she then applied for a similar sounding but religious plate with the same number of letters, and it was fine:

A New Jersey woman who says she was denied a license plate referencing atheism filed suit this week, claiming her online application was rejected because it was deemed potentially offensive.

Shannon Morgan, of Maurice Township, said in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday that the Motor Vehicle Commission violated her First Amendment rights when its website rejected the plate reading “8THEIST.” She said she received a message stating that her vanity plate request was ineligible as it “may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency.”

Really? “Good taste and decency”? Well, if flaunting nonbelief on a public motorway is offensive, what about belief? Morgan cleverly did the control experiment:

Morgan then filled out the online application using the phrase “BAPTIST” as a test, which the website accepted. Morgan claims in her lawsuit that she sent the agency a letter of complaint by registered mail and made several attempts to contact them by phone, all of which went unanswered.

I guess flaunting belief in front of nonbelievers, or even non-Baptists, is perfectly fine. That’s unconstitutional, and good grounds for a lawsuit. What makes this particularly puzzling is that New Jersey, after a bit of foot-dragging, had previously approved a request for a license plate that read “ATH1EST” (with a one instead of an “i”). Maybe it’s the “8” they object to!

More public money wasted on a losing state lawsuit. The second most ironic thing is this:

Messages and emails left for the Motor Vehicle Commission by The Associated Press on Friday were not returned. A recorded message said the offices were closed in observance of Good Friday.

 

62 Comments

  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    It appears that whoever rejected the word “atheist” sees it as a terrible, terrible thing tantamount to murderer or rapist.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      I’ve been told that “telling people there is no God” is worse than either because it takes away hope.

      • Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        Wow.

        You mean that this person, given a choice between being told that the gods are faery tales and being raped and murdered, would really pick the rape and murder?

        Somehow I doubt that. Not your telling of it; I’ve encountered enough similar absurdities that it’s not all that implausible. Rather, I doubt the sincerity of the person telling it to you. At the most generous, the person was exercising an extreme case of cognitive dissonance.

        b&

        • Sastra
          Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          Yeah, I doubt the sincerity as well if this was proposed as an actual choice in real life. And of course the insistence that “taking away” faith cripples people often carries a whiff of the Little People Argument. They can’t cope with anything any more, poor things.

          But it makes sense within the context of their system and its theodices. Remember, this is the same group which excuses the fact that God allows rape and murder because the ends justifies the means. The laudatory ends for all religions ultimately comes down to an intensified connection with God. It’s the entire purpose of life. How can that happen without faith — the willingness to want God enough to believe and follow?

          When accomodationists assure atheists that we’d get much more respect if we simply accept that faith is a virtue which defines the very lives of other people and stop “trying to take it away” I wonder whether they’ve thought that through very much.

          I mean, even an atheist license plate is threatening on their terms.

          • Taz
            Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

            I could see William Lane Craig sincerely holding this position.

            • Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think Craig has a sincere bone in his body. He’s the ultimate propagandist; he’ll say anything and everything if he thinks it’ll convince somebody to bow down in front of his altar.

              b&

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        OMG! You just reminded me of my last week’s rant while watching The Following, a series in its second season about a serial killer named Joe Carroll and an FBI agent obsessively pursuing him (played by Kevin Bacon). This season, Joe takes over the camp of a cult & declares war on religion when a TV preacher calls him out on TV. Joe says that religion is hypocritical & about power. When we see his long suffering ex-wife (one of the good guys) she explains to Kevin Bacon’s character that Joe became an atheist because he was angry about his religious upbringing & that she herself believes in God because God is hope and without hope what is there?

        My head exploded under the pressure of all this stereotype!

        • Filippo
          Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

          “OMG!”?

          OMZ? OMW? OMM (Mithras)? OMB (Buddha)?

          OMFSM? ;)

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

            ….goodness. ;)

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        because it takes away false hope.

        As they say on Slashdot, “FTFY

    • jay
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      While the refusal is totally stupid and will likely be reversed, I’m not sure where the ‘murderer or rapist’ comes from. I don’t see that referenced in any of the news articles. It’s idiocy, but I believe no one officially made such a comparison.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        Did I quote something? Did I say it was part of a comparison in an article?

        No, these were my words. If it is objected to as being offensive, I listed what would be an offensive plate.

        Also, there have been surveys that put atheists as the least trusted group in America. Rapist also comes up in this study

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      Well, at least as bad as blasphemers, drunkards, layabouts and other hell-bound reprobates.

  2. Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    On the other hand, if it did stop, what would I have to kvetch about.

    Well, you could always kvetch about not having anything to kvetch about….

    b&

    • Larry Gay
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Putin, bad writing, guns,…, stupidity in general.

    • Achrachno
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Jerry could always kvetch about the flailing attacks of the incoherent Damon Linker over at “The Week”. Linker recently described Jerry’s last TNR article as a “diatribe” and claimed Jerry can’t follow a “philosophical” argument. Linker, of course, says nothing intelligent at all to justify his claims. “There are certain experiences that atheism simply cannot explain” i.e., recycled god-of-the-gaps, except some of his gaps are not gaps even currently, except in Linker’s mind. Does he have more gap than mind?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      I find I have plenty to complain about when shit malfunctions. Something always breaks: a procedure, a program, a mechanical part, a body part….

      • Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        Well, if your programs keep breaking, have you tried clearing all the breakpoints? You could turn off the debugger, too….

        b&

  3. Sastra
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    This is a good argument for having more of these plates.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      How could that work? Isn’t a plate unique, at least within a country? Or is it entirely different in the US? I gather that they’re somehow tied to people in the US (so how do people own more than one car), rather than cars (so something must happen when a car gets sold). But surely they’re still unique? At least locally.

      • tomh
        Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        In some states they’re tied to people, in some they are tied to the car. Every car must have a unique plate, obviously.

        • Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

          And, just to clarify further: vehicle registration is done by the states, not the Federal government. Each state has its own design (and most have several designs to choose from) and standard numbering pattern. And each state has its own regulations concerning vanity plates. Oh — and vehicle registration, inspection, driver licensing and renewal, and so on. For that matter, each state even has its own traffic laws; for example, some permit a right turn after coming to a stop at a red light; others prohibit it. Some, like Arizona, even permit left-on-red, if it’s from one one-way street to another and you’re in the leftmost lane.

          Indeed, you’ll probably find more disparity between two adjoining states than you would between neighboring European countries.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Thanny
            Posted April 19, 2014 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

            To further confuse the issue, you can turn right on red in New York, unless otherwise posted, but you can’t turn right on red in New York City, unless otherwise posted.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted April 20, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

          I used to be sure about the last point, but I’m not so sure now.
          Pesky people, wanting to drive across town boundaries, county boundaries, state boundaries, country boundaries and even continental boundaries (well, Urals. A friend is thinking of driving his decent UK car over to his sister in Surgut, and leaving it there for her ; might be more hassle than it’s worth, being RHD etc).

      • Sastra
        Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        True, there are only going to be so many ways to say “ATHEIST” or some variation on a license plate (I know someone who actually has that one.) There are 50 states, but still. Off course there are all sorts of decals and bumper stickers to stick on cars, as well as plates for the plates.

        My larger point though was really about atheists becoming more visible. If even the mere word “may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency.” then I think the wise choice is to go in the opposite direction till they’re used to it. Taste and decency are pretty much cultural constructs.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted April 20, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

          If even the mere word “may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency.” then I think the wise choice is to go in the opposite direction till they’re used to it.

          Same strategy as my coffee mug in the office being “Atheist and proud of it”. Which is neither news to anyone in the company, nor controversial since we’re a geological company.

  4. Barry
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    What a silly woman. When they questioned her as to the plate’s meaning she could have simply said she had eight kids all pursuing their Th. D. Degrees. They would have let her have it then.

  5. Barry Lyons
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    “Offensive to good taste and decency” actually made me laugh out loud (I like spelling out those words rather than resorting to the glib acronym).

  6. D'oh
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    There is the possibility that they interpreted “8theist” as “hate theist”.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Perhaps, but they didn’t answer when asked to explain.

    • gbjames
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Probably as likely as thinking it was “ate theist”, mostly likely a baby one.

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      This occurred to me to.

  7. Robert Seidel
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    > Maybe it’s the “8″ they object to!

    Well, we do know from Terry Pratchett it’s a number you don’t fool about:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bel-Shamharoth#Bel-Shamharoth

  8. Posted April 19, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    New Jersey, [..] had previously approved a request for a license plate that read “ATH1EST” (with a one instead of an “i”). Maybe it’s the “8″ they object to!

    Or, maybe it was that, even with an ‘i’, it’s not an existing word.
    But then again, it would have been very offensive to grammar Nazis. ;-)

  9. tomh
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    The plate ATHE1ST was rejected for being “offensive,” before they changed the ruling and accepted it. It looks to me like there’s someone in a position of authority who is denying these plates but then reason takes over and they allow it. It will probably be the same with this one. The best thing about the lawsuit is that it may ferret out whoever is denying these plates.

    • Walt Jones
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      She applied online, so it’s probably in a database of dirty words.

      I’d have loved to have been on the team that brainstormed all the ways to swear using letters and numbers (notwithstanding having to work with the dolt who thought atheism was offensive).

      My favorite has always been 3M TA3.

      • tomh
        Posted April 19, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

        “She applied online, so it’s probably in a database of dirty words.”

        Possibly, but the Commission had this to say;

        “We review every request personally … and we review them for anything that’s offensive or objectionable,” said Sandy Grossman, a spokesperson for the Motor Vehicle Commission.”

        • Walt Jones
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

          There goes my dream job! Thanks for the correction.

  10. Filippo
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Wonder if she could have gotten by with
    “TSIEHTA”?

    Obviously, there is a zealous, domineering religioso in the NJ motor vehicle department.

    • Sheila B and Zin
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Or would putting a space after the A work, as in A THEIST ? Reversal of meaning that might cause a double take or two.

  11. Lurker111
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    “A recorded message said the offices were closed in observance of Good Friday.”

    Damn. There goes another irony meter.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Damn. There goes another irony meter.

      Wasn’t there something by a guy called Thoreau, or Pond, or Walden, or something like that (the only school exam I failed was English Literature, which didn’t cover anything within a century or so of America), about making a better irony meter and being beaten to death with mousetraps. Or something.

  12. Ian Belson
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    So she ate a theist??!!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      So many options. I hate it when I see a cryptic licence plate. I almost crash my car trying to figure it out!

      • Posted April 20, 2014 at 6:19 am | Permalink

        You must be a real road hazard, then. How do you attempt to make sense of plates such as, “828HNG,” or “XKS2″?

        b&

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 20, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

          Well those ones I don’t notice.

          • Posted April 20, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

            Ah, but how do you know whether or not there’s some hidden meaning? Or, worse, if maybe you XOR the plate of the car on the left with the one on the right you’ll get the combination to Mel Brooks’s luggage? How would you know if you never noticed?

            b&

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted April 20, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

              Stop trying to appeal to my OCD brain!

              • Posted April 20, 2014 at 8:09 am | Permalink

                OCD — that’s the alpha part of the plate. What’s the numeric part read?

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 20, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

                8

              • Posted April 20, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

                But that’s just a third of it! Non-special Arizona plates must match this regex:

                ^[A-Z]{3} \d{3}$

                b&

  13. jaxkayaker
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Maybe they thought “8THEIST” was a reference to belief in 8 gods, or even a octo-partite god, instead of the trinity, not a reference to atheism.

  14. Posted April 19, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Or maybe the NJ doesn’t accept references to criminal act, and it’s hard to spell “atheist” without the “heist”.

    • Posted April 20, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink

      So…we don’t kill gods, but steal them? And this woman stole eight of them! Quite the accomplishment….

      b&

  15. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    So a Jersey plate saying “FUCK RELIGION” is out of the question?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

      Well there is a character length limit.

  16. Posted April 20, 2014 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    Before we were married, my wife lived on a street with a house that had two cars with vanity plates – one SATAN and the other EVIL. Satan drove a BMW.

  17. Stephen Wilson
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    On my car (a ’70 Boss 302 Mustang) I had the Virginia license plate “FCK 55″ up till 1982, when I put the car in storage. I made a plaque out of the plates and am looking at it on my wall now. I suspect Virginia DMV would not allow me to renew it now. My adopted home state of FL now allows “In God We Trust” as a free option for its plates. Wonder if an “atheist” variation would fly down here?

    • Posted April 20, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      An interesting thought: an “In God We Trust” custom plate that reads something like, “I DONT.” Think it’d register on the radar, so to speak?

      b&


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