South Carolina Federal Court Strikes Down Christian License Plate: Religious Liberty Prevails
November 11, 2009 (Charleston, S.C.) - U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie ruled in favor of a coalition that included the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), several Christian clergy, a rabbi and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, yesterday, rejecting a special Christian license plate mandated by the South Carolina legislature last year. In her ruling, Judge Currie held that the license plate featuring a stained glass window, a large yellow cross and the phrase, "I Believe," violated separation of church and state as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Ayesha Khan, Legal Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State represented HAF and the coalition. “Government must never be allowed to play favorites when it comes to religion,” said Khan. “That’s a fundamental constitutional rule, and I am delighted that the judge has reminded South Carolina officials of that fact.”
HAF's legal team joined the effort soon after South Carolina's Lt. Governor, Andre Bauer pushed both houses of the state legislature to pass a special measure creating the license plate. With that move, the "I Believe" tags became very different than other specialty license plates according to the Foundation.
"We have always held that the South Carolina legislators were playing a contentious game of religious favoritism in actively sponsoring a Christian themed license plate," said Suhag Shukla, Esq., HAF's legal counsel and managing director. "Religious pluralism became a casualty to political pandering there, and we are thrilled that the federal court ended those devisive maneuvers."
Judge Currie went on even to reprimand the state's efforts to pass the license plate and fight on in court.
“Whether motivated by sincerely held Christian beliefs or an effort to purchase political capital with religious coin, the result is the same,” Currie wrote. “The statute is clearly unconstitutional and defense of its implementation has embroiled the state in unnecessary (and expensive) litigation.”