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Woman sues BMV over vanity plate denial

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The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles is again involved in a lawsuit involving the use of "God" on a license plate. A Cambridge City woman is suing because the BMV refused to re-issue her personalized license plate with the words "BE GODS."

Elizabeth Ferris filed the suit, Elizabeth Ferris v. Ronald Stiver, in his individual capacity and his official capacity as Commissioner of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, No. 1:08-cv-1551-SEB-DML, Nov. 17 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, seeking declaratory relief, injunctive relief, damages, costs, and attorneys fees relating to the denial of her personalized plate.

This afternoon, Ronald Stiver, commissioner of the BMV, released a statement that said Ferris would receive her personalized license plate. Stiver said Ferris should receive her plate because she completed the application process before a new review process of license plates took effect Nov. 6. The new process aims to be more consistent in approving or rejecting plates with pro- or anti-deity messages.

Ferris claims the BMV denied her application for a personalize license plate for 2009 that read "BE GODS," which she said meant "Belonging to God." Ferris had the same vanity plate for more than eight years. Her 2009 renewal application was denied because the plate was considered "inappropriate due to form or content."

Ferris requested a hearing with an administrative hearing officer, who released a recommended order that stated the First Amendment prohibited the BMV from refusing to issue a vanity plate because of a referenced deity and that the bureau's statutory authority to reject plates with offensive messages didn't authorize it to prohibit Ferris' plate solely because of the reference to religion. The BMV issued a final agency order denying her application for the plate Oct. 15, 2008.

The suit states that Indiana allows a license plate with "In God We Trust" on it, which isn't a personalized specialty plate. Stiver said in the release that the new process for evaluating personalized license plates with religious messages or words is different from the process surrounding the "In God We Trust" license plate, which was adopted by the General Assembly.

Ferris is suing for violations of the First Amendment's Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses, violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and violation of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. She wants a preliminary and permanent injunction to enjoin the BMV from infringing on her rights and require the bureau to issue her personalized plate. Ferris also wants the court to enter a declaratory judgment finding certain statutes regulating the BMV's authority on personalized license plates, and the BMV's policies and practice regarding personalized plates, unconstitutional both on their face and as applied as violations of Ferris' rights under the First and 14th Amendments.

Ferris is represented by three attorneys pro hac vice from the Alliance Defense Fund in Leawood, Kan., and locally by Michael J. Cork of Bamberger Foreman Oswald & Hahn in Indianapolis.

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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