Atheist Sues After New Jersey Rejects License Plate

Friday, 18 Apr 2014 10:34 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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A New Jersey woman wants to know why she can't proclaim she's an atheist on her license plate, when she can easily get a tag identifying her as a "BAPTIST."

Shannon Moran, of Maurice River Township has filed a lawsuit against the state Motor Vehicle Commission, saying it violated her First Amendment rights when it would not let her have a license plate with the word "8THEIST" on it, reports The South Jersey Times.

"There is nothing offensive about being atheist," Morgan told The Times. “I should be able to express my sincerely held beliefs with a license plate just like everyone else.”

Morgan is being represented by Ayesha Khan, the legal director for the religious liberty watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, based in Washington D.C.

"The state of New Jersey is favoring religion while disparaging non-belief," said Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the group's executive director. "“This license plate issue may seem like a small matter but it is indicative of a much larger problem — atheists are often treated by the government as second-class citizens."

Morgan said when she tried to use the commission's website to request her personalized license plate, the site rejected it because it was flagged as objectionable. But when she entered "BAPTIST" as a potential plate tag, that one was approved.

Morgan said she tried contacting the commission in November and in March, but got no explanations.

But Sandy Grossman, a spokesperson for the MVC, said that the agency "reviews every request personally, and we review them for anything that’s offensive or objectionable."

Grossman said atheist-themed plates have been issued before, and the MVC will continue issuing such plates in the future.

In her lawsuit, Morgan is demanding to be allowed to use "8THEIST" on her plate, and that the commission adopt new criteria for license plate approvals.

Last year, David Silverman, the president of American Atheists and Cranford resident, was refused an attempt for a plate slugged “ATHE1ST" after a clerk said the plate was offensive. The decision was reversed later that month.

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