July 5, 2007

The “In God we Trust” license plate

Last month, Kayla Fleener had a letter to the editor concerning the "In God we Trust" license plate. Fleener's arguments are familiar, but not invalid. Some have objected to the IGWT plate as an unconstitutional state endorsement of religion, and/or are unhappy with having their tax dollars do to support a message that they either openly disagree with or simply do not support. Should an atheist be forced to pay for a religious message through his or her tax dollars?

I spoke at the City Council meeting two weeks ago where the council approved another taxpayer subsidy to Planned Parenthood. I argued, for the ninth consecutive year, that city government should not force pro-life taxpayers to contribute to an organization they find reprehensible. Is my objection to funding PP more valid than objections to the IGWT plate? I am probably in the minority in this city, and those who object to the IGWT plate are probably a minority statewide. I do not see much of a difference here.

What I think is unfortunate is that there's no reason why we had to engage in this disagreement to begin with. Does the IGWT plate advance a public policy goal? The plate is certainly popular, but does it help make the state better in a tangible way? If there's no public policy goal to be attained, why do something that you know is going to offend people, even if they are a small but vocal minority? Now, if the plate does go away (though court decision or executive or legislative decision) supporters of the plate will be offended.

Would supporters of the IGWT plate have credibility to argue against a license plate that proudly stated "Allah Akbar"? Would they have credibility to object to a Wiccan slogan? "Yes, but there is only one true God and the rest are idols." That may be true, but do we want the government to decide which religions are true and which religions are not? Wouldn't it be better to keep government out of it entirely?

At least the Herald-Times editorial on the matter back in April mentioned the "constitutional prohibition against establishment of religion" as opposed to the mythical "separation of church and state". I do not see the plate going anywhere though. If the courts rule "In God we Trust" to be unconstitutional on a license plate, then the only logical conclusion is to also declare "In God we Trust" to be unconstitutional on our currency. That is not going to happen. It is also highly debatable whether or not the highly generic "IGWT" plate truly does respect an establishment of religion.

From a spiritual standpoint, my concern about such expressions of religious sentiment in the public square is that they advance the false notion that we are a Christian nation. A large percentage of Americans self-identify as Christian, but in a nation where sexual immorality, abortion, violence, theft and other social ills are everywhere, how many of that 78% actually are Christians? Obviously, Christians are capable of sin and struggle against it constantly. Any honest Believer will admit that. But the restraint of the Holy Spirit does not seem to be nearly as prevalent as one would think if 78% of Americans truly were Christians. Many of these people will be shocked to hear Jesus say "I never knew you: depart from me". (Matthew 7:23)

Ultimately, a license plate is meaningless. Even if it beings one "closer to God" (whatever that means) it does not serve as a substitute for the shed blood of Jesus Christ, which is the only way to be absolved of one's sins. It could, however, give someone on the highway to Hell a false sense of security that is spiritually dangerous. Fleener's suggestion is the best solution: get a bumper sticker.