February 7, 2012; Source: Associated Press | South Carolina has come up with a plan to sell “I Believe” plates with unmistakably religious overtones. In 2009, a federal court judge declared that “I Believe” plates created by state law violated the First Amendment’s requirements of separating church and state. So the new plan is for the plates to be created and sponsored by a nonprofit called www.IBELIEVEsc.net, whose spokesperson, Adrian Grimes, declares the tag a nonpolitical statement of faith for Christians. Americans United for Church and State, which challenged the 2009 law, doesn’t appear to be concerned about this new program, according to this Associated Press story.
On the South Carolina group’s website, a sample plate certainly looks like it was designed for a certain special person no longer walking among us:
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For passenger cars, the plates would cost $49; the standard $24 cost would be paid to the South Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, while an additional $25 would go to the nonprofit. The nonprofit’s sales proceeds will go to “educational programming [and] evangelism.”
IBELIEVEsc.net was formerly known as Silver Ring South Carolina, an evangelical organization which was created in 2004 to get young South Carolinians to commit to Jesus Christ and to sexual purity by wearing a silver ring. Silver Ring South Carolina has since merged with Silver Ring Thing, a national organization that describes itself as a “unique para-church ministry” created in the mid-1990s to “motivate…and transform generations of young people to embrace a lifestyle of Christ-centered sexual abstinence until marriage” and to “create a culture shift in America where abstinence becomes the norm again rather than the exception.”
The controversy around states selling “message” license plates isn’t new. Last May, we noted the concerns about Arizona’s “Don’t Tread on Me” plates, an idea promoted by the Arizona Tea Party to use plates’ sales proceeds to fund grants to groups that “promote Tea Party principles.” In Texas, “Choose Life” license plates would have supported a fund to promote adoption as an alternative to abortion. –Rick Cohen