God and the BMV

November 21, 2008
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Who would have thought God would be such an issue at the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles?

The religious deity and the use of the word “God” continue to prompt Indiana residents to file suits – one challenging the lack of extra fees to get the “In God We Trust” license plate; the other fighting for a specialized “BE GODS” plate.

Here’s an interesting dilemma the BMV just might face: what if someone wants to personalize an “In God We Trust” plate with the word “God?” According to BMV Commissioner Ron Stiver’s statement released earlier this week, anyone applying for pro- or anti-deity messages won’t be approved under a new regulatory process that took effect earlier this month.

An interesting side note on the new process – Stiver says the standards took the effect of the law, but the law only grants the BMV the authority to refuse to issue a plate that “carries a connotation offensive to good taste and decency; or would be misleading.” I.C. Section 9-18-15-4. In fact, the administrative hearing officer assigned to hear Elizabeth Ferris’ rejected renewal for her “BE GODS” plate wrote in the recommended order that the BMV doesn’t have a statutory grant of authority to prohibit messages solely based on a reference to a god or religion. Do messages with a religious or anti-religious phrase fall under the “offensive” exception or are they being rejected by one of the new standards that aren’t listed in statute?

How can the BMV reject the word “God” on a license plate that already has the word “God” on it? If they use the argument it is “offensive” to people, then is the “In God We Trust” plate considered offensive under the new standards the BMV adopted? If so, how will it reconcile that with the fact the General Assembly created the “In God We Trust” plates?
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