Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Don't Let Your Plates Speak for You

Should state license plates promote a particular religion?

Of course not.

I've never been a huge proponent of "vanity plates," the customized license plates that can feature anything from sports teams to popular slogans to tourist destinations.

Not that license places need to be plain with only numbers and letters on them.  But their primary function is to identify a vehicle as having the authority to be on publicly-funded roadways.  And vanity plates are simply a license for trouble.

How so?  For example, consider the process of deciding what merits a vanity plate.  What teams get included or excluded?  What tourist destinations, slogans, and other considerations get the green light or red light?  Why?  Because who says?

Here in Texas, you can purchase separate vanity plates for your Ford car or truck.  You can get some for your favorite power company or restaurant.  Breast cancer, Dr. Pepper, nurses, Realtors, wind farms - they all have special plates.

And now we've come to what I knew would happen eventually:  religion on license places.  For a while, Texas has allowed the slogan "In God We Trust" on vanity plates featuring an Americana motif, and certainly, as slogans go, I don't have a problem with the wording.  But it was only a matter of time before somebody took things a step further.

Which they've now done.

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has begun authorizing black and white plates featuring a rendition of three crosses and the phrase, "One State Under God."  And right on cue, protests have arisen over the blurring of the line between separation of church and state.

I wonder if the same people who rush to their DMV office to purchase these new "One State Under God" plates would be so eager to let Muslims affix an Islamic saying onto our license plates.  Would Satanists be able to promote their faith?  How about atheists?  After all, atheism is a faith.

Every vanity plate carries a surcharge which varies based on the extent to which its customized.  Here in Texas, different vanity plates celebrating various social causes are sold with a portion of their proceeds directed to a signature non-profit group promoting that particular social cause.  And no, I can't argue with that.

Yet our new "One State Under God" plates will benefit a charity called "The Glory Gang" that works with at-risk kids in the sparsely-populated East Texas town of Nacogdoches.  How this particular charity got singled out to benefit from the proceeds of these plates, when a plethora of Christian non-profits exist in Texas, isn't clear.

Of course, Glory Gang sees the plates as a win-win.

“We believe the new plate will appeal to a lot of Texans who believe as we do-- who will like knowing that sharing a Christian message from their cars will also help kids in need,” said Matt Rocco, a Glory Gang board member.

Even if you think I'm wrong, and that religious-themed license plates are a good idea, you still have to admit that the slogan chosen for this inaugural plate doesn't make much sense.  "One State Under God?"

Of course, Texas is one state.  But "One State Under God" ostensibly mimics the national slogan, "One Nation Under God," which envisions a collection of states united in a common solidarity under the lordship of God.

"One Nation Under God," therefore, makes sense.  "One State Under God" is a weak copy which trivializes not only the original slogan from which it's trying to borrow credibility, but also the concept of Christian-themed license plates in general.

I'd have thought that something like "God Bless Texas" - a popular slogan that has become a thoroughly Texan anthem with decidedly innocuous tones - would be more appropriate than the poorly-phrased "One State Under God."

But then, we wouldn't need to be having this discussion if our license plates simply stayed out of religion altogether.  It's not that we don't have the freedom to broadcast our faith from our car bumpers.  But our faith should be more interactive when it comes to how we drive.  After all, how many times have you been blasted by a speeding vehicle blowing past you bearing a Christian bumper sticker on its rear?

Let other drivers know you're a Christian by your love behind the wheel.  Not some slogan on your license plate.
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