A federal court this week rules that the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet was wrong to rule a man could not have a personalized license plate reading “IM GOD,” according to WDRB.
Bennie L. Hart, a retired postal worker, applied for the plate in 2016 but was denied, with the cabinet saying that the plate qualified as government speech and thus did not have free speech protections.
U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove disagreed with the premise, writing that it made no sense to argue that vanity plates were official government statements given the contradictory messages the cabinet has approved, according to WDRB.
“The same year Mr. Hart was denied a plate reading “IM GOD”, the Transportation Cabinet approved the contradictory plates “NOGAS”, “EATGAS”, “VEGAN”, and “BBQ4U” among many others,” he wrote. “Under the Transportation Cabinet’s logic, the Commonwealth is not only contradicting itself, but spewing nonsense.”
“If the Court finds that vanity plates are government speech, then the Court would also be finding that Kentucky has officially endorsed the words ‘UDDER’, ‘BOOGR’, ‘JUICY’, ‘W8LOSS’ and ‘FATA55,’” he added, according to WDRB.
He similarly rejected the claim that religious messages on plates could be “potentially controversial” and lead to “confrontation or distraction on highways,” according to WDRB.
“If the Transportation Cabinet genuinely wants to avoid controversy on Kentucky’s highways by preventing ‘promotion of any specific faith, religion, or anti-religion’ from appearing on vanity plates,” he wrote, “then it should have denied ‘IM4GOD’, ‘ASKGOD’, ‘GR8GOD’, ‘LUVGOD’. But it did not.”
Hart, who was backed in the lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and the dom From Religion Foundation, said in a statement that he was “thankful to finally have the same opportunity to select a personal message for my license plate just as any other driver.”
Naitore Djigbenou, executive director of the cabinet’s Office of Public Affairs, told WDRB the agency is reviewing the ruling to determine whether they will appeal and said that the cabinet’s leadership has changed since Hart’s application was rejected, and that the new leadership has taken steps to make the process more consistent.