I remember going to renew my car registration at the Indiana BMV several years ago, and in a moment of vanity, asking about getting one of those personalized license plates. I was thinking maybe "SUMSALT" or "WEBPRO" or "TALLGY" or the like. But when they said it would be at least an extra $40 because of the costs of producing the special plates, I decided this was an area of my life where I was perfectly fine being just another number in the system. I guess I understood that it cost the state extra dollars to produce those plates, I just didn't want to pay for it.
I was surprised and disturbed today to learn that there's one kind of custom/special license plate you can get in Indiana at no extra charge.
While the other organization-specific plates you see like the "Environment" or "Kids First" plates cost at least $15-35 extra, the "In God We Trust" special plate is subsidized by all Hoosier taxpayers. In other words, each time someone wants to make a religious statement of faith on their vehicle, it costs taxpayers about $3.69. So far, taxpayers have paid about $1.5 million for orders of this plate. And this isn't just an obscure administrative decision by the Indiana BMV. State Rep. Woody Burton introduced a law requiring that the plates be subsidized by tax dollars and offered for no additional charge.
From my perspective, this seems like an abuse of Indiana taxpayer dollars. If I wanted to subsidize the expression of statements of faith, I'll donate my money to a religious organization, or I'll get a tacky bumper sticker and put it on my car. Requiring Hoosiers to pay for a state-issued document that expresses a religious preference works against religious freedom and separation of church and state.
UPDATE on 4/18/2008: The ACLU of Indiana notes that a court has decided that it is not unconstitutional to provide the plate for free, but that they plan to appeal that decision.
Update on 11/18/2008: The ACLU of Indiana notes that the state appeals court has upheld the lower court's decision, and that they're debating an appeal in the Indiana Supreme Court.