The state of New York is the target of a federal lawsuit for rejecting a speciality license plate with the message “Choose Life.”
Controversial license plate.
The Department of Motor Vehicles dismissed an application for a design by the non-partisan Children First Foundation because it found the words “Choose Life” to be “patently offensive.”
“This is a clear-cut case of unlawful discrimination,” said Michael Johnson, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed the suit.
“New York Department of Motor Vehicles officials and their superiors have apparently decided that it’s just fine to deny the Children First Foundation’s applications simply because they don’t like the organization’s message,” Johnson said. “We intend to demonstrate that it’s not just fine with the Constitution.”
The children’s group supports adoption and safe havens but does not promote a specific religion or anti-religious belief, ADF notes.
But the New York DMV rejected the foundation’s design of a crayon drawing with a yellow sun behind the faces of two smiling children, claiming a significant segment of the population would consider the design “patently offensive” because it also included the words “Choose Life.”
The group submitted a new design with its website address, fund-adoption.org, to better reflect its purpose, but that also was rejected on the same grounds.
Johnson received a letter from the DMV stating it has voluntarily suspended its custom plate program until further notice.
“The state was clearly deciding to insert its own political correctness into the approval process instead of respecting the First and 14th Amendments,” Johnson said. “Now they want to kill the whole program, but that action does not resolve the wrong done to our client, compensate them for the substantial amount of revenue they would have received from the sales of the plates, or somehow make the unconstitutional licensing scheme legitimate.”
According to the complaint, New York officials have been enforcing the rules however they see fit because “there are no objective standards or written criteria to govern the DMV’s decision regarding whether an eligible organization’s plate design is approved.”
Johnson said, “DMV officials have approved custom plates for many diverse organizations, from labor unions such as the AFL-CIO to religious groups such as the Knights of Columbus. Our client was unfairly singled out simply because its particular message is not popular with those officials. That”s a wrong that has yet to be righted.”
Abortion-rights groups, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, have issued legal challenges to the “Choose Life” plates in other states.
Choose Life, Inc., a non-profit group, launched in 1997 what has become a national movement.
Beginning with a law signed by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the plates have been approved in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, Tennessee, South Carolina and Montana. Legislation has been proposed in a dozen more states.