Americans United for Separation of Church and State is in a dither over a proposal by the state of Kentucky to issue a license plate with the motto “In God We Trust” on it. Sandhya Bathija claims there’s a constitutional problem with putting the national motto on a license plate. Really:
“The cabinet often receives comments from people out in the state expressing interest in having something like this,” cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “The cabinet believes there’s a sizable group of people who would like to have this choice.”
Wolfe told the newspaper that there are no church-state concerns with the new plate. “In God We Trust” is the national motto, he said, and motorists can choose an alternate plate for the same price.
I don’t know if Wolfe is right about the legal issue. Courts do sometimes uphold generic expressions of religion. But regardless, the proposed new plate is a bad idea.
And why is that?
The Rev. Paul Simmons, president of the Louisville Americans United Chapter, explained.
“It’s the kind of deism, a general God, that’s offensive to people who take religion seriously, and to those who take separation [of church and state] seriously,” he told the Courier-Journal. “I dislike this sort of bumper-sticker, license-plate religion.”
Right. Those would be the hordes who have taken pitchfork in hand to storm the U.S. Capitol and demand that “In God We Trust” be replaced as the national motto by something that represents all Americans, like “Party On, Dude!” or “”Shop ‘Til You Drop.” Look, I get his point about civil religion, and I agree that this kind of expression is meaningless from the standpoint of genuine Christianity, but let’s get real–virtually the only ones who will be breaking down the doors to express outrage at this are strict separationists of the AU variety. Most Americans, including most devoutly religious ones, recognize this as just as harmless as the national motto.
Plus, the Constitution requires the government to remain neutral on religion, and issuing these tags is certainly not a good example of that.
So what she is essentially saying is that states can’t put the national motto on a license plate, though the courts have repeatedly held that the federal government can put it on money. Good luck making that argument stand up in court–either the legal one or the court of public opinion.
For anyone for whom it might not have been clear, I couldn’t care less whether Kentucky does this or not. It makes not one whit of difference in any realm I can conceive of, is not in any way supportive of Christianity, and has as much to do with genuine faith as a “God Is My Co-Pilot” bumper sticker. Why Americans United thinks that such trivia requires them to view-with-alarm is anybody’s guess.