A Vermont man is fighting the state government over its refusal to allow him to have a license plate with a reference to a Bible verse.
After receiving a rejection from the state to his request for custom plates bearing “JOHN316,” Rutland, Vt., resident Shawn Byrne appealed to an administrative law judge. When the appeal was rejected Byrne, with the help of religious-liberties law firm Alliance Defense Fund, sued in federal court earlier this year.
According to the Rutland Herald, Byrne’s attorney, Jeremy Tedesco, last week filed a response in U.S. District Court to the state’s motion that the suit be dismissed.
“To be sure, title to these thin tin plates may rest in the state, but the message on a vanity plate is that of the registered owner, not the state,” Tedesco wrote in his filing, saying the rejection of the plates was a violation of Byrne’s First Amendment rights.
The state last month argued in court records that the case should be dismissed because license plates are state property and a religious message placed on them could be viewed as a government endorsement of religion, the local paper reported.
“The ‘reasonable observer’ in our case is not a motorist with an ‘eggshell psyche,’ which (state agencies) unflatteringly seem to think fill Vermont roadways, but a reasonable, mature person who would know that the message that appears on vanity plates is selected by the individual who purchased the plate,” Tedesco wrote.
“Indeed, common sense tells the reasonable observer that the message on the plate is associated with the driver behind the wheel, not the state that issued the plate.”
Tedesco included examples of other Vermont plates that appear to reference religious themes, including “HIREPWR,” “PSALM” and “RI-CHUS.”
The suit states Byrne applied for vanity plates for his Ford pickup, submitting these three possibilities: “JOHN316,” “JN316” and “JN36TN.” The state rejected his request because it “refers to deity.”
John 3:16, likely the most popular verse in the Bible, reads: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Besides requesting the suit be dismissed, state attorneys asked that Byrne’s motion for a preliminary injunction, which would allow him to get the plates, be denied.
The Herald reports no hearing date on the motions has been set.