I'm Funding Indiana "In God We Trust" License Plates

This post is more than 3 years old.

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.

20 thoughts on “I'm Funding Indiana "In God We Trust" License Plates

  1. Coming soon to a state courthouse near you... It has to be unconstitutional... even in Indiana... 🙂

  2. I see no problem. If the only thing we have to worry about is license plates, then our lives must be pretty good. I am sure if you dig a little deeper there are numerous things we (via taxes) pay for that we do not agree with...

  3. Van: I disagree with many of the uses that my tax dollars go toward, and many of them are in this same category - people in political power using the machinery of the state to promote a particular world-view while ignoring much more pressing and systemic issues. Just because I don't spend all of my time working against them until I can do no more, I haven't given up the right to voice opposition to specific (and new and brazen) abuses of my taxes.

    So, I would turn your statement around: maybe if there weren't so many other abuses of tax dollars happening every day, life might be good enough that I wouldn't mind something like this so much.

  4. Chris, I completely understand your stance on this subject, I just had to throw out an opposite opinion on this subject. I do have those plates on my vehicles and would have paid extra for them. I was VERY shocked when I did not have to pay extra. I assumed they were another speciality plate.

    Keep up the good work on the Richmond News Review and this blog. I enjoy reading/listening.

  5. When I first saw that these plates were going to be made available the first thing I thought was how long will it take for the bleeding heart(less) left wing cry baby liberals will make an issue out of it and want to file a law suit. It took a little longer than I thought. It must have been a slow day in liberal land. Please get a life and let us conservatives live ours.

  6. This is one of the first steps in setting up a theocracy....They will not be able to put one of these on my car.

  7. "Please get a life and let us conservatives live ours."

    That's just the point. Hoosiers who don't necessarily subscribe to that statement are paying for the lifestyles of others. This is a case in which conservatives are interfering in the lives of liberals, not the other way around.

    The truly conservative thing to do would be to charge each Hoosier the true cost of his license plates, and let him put whatever he wants on it. Stealing cash from unsuspecting folks to fund special interest plates should be totally contrary to true conservative values.

    But I guess this just shows that conservatives are the new "tax and spend" group, and liberals are the ones trying to prune the tendrils of overreaching government these days.

  8. God is incredibly awesome! But I'll be damned if I am hoodwinked into getting this plate under these circumstances. I proudly chose the generic one, exercising my freedom to choose. How many people got the plate to save the money and could care less about what it says? (but, hey, it makes the state look good, right?) About as effective as some religions scaring small children into saying certain prayers so they don't "go to hell and be with the devil." "Yep, saved another one!" And the child has no clue what just happened, nor any reason or awareness to live the life of what that prayer promised. Always will be a rebel...

  9. A follow-up status report from the ACLU on 2/25/2008:

    Hi. We finally had our summary judgment hearing this morning in the In God We Trust license plate case that you helped with. This was the hearing before the trial judge where each side argued why it should win. The hearing was uneventful and the Judge took the matter under advisement. We will be submitting our proposed findings within the week. I am unsure when there will be a decision. I will let you know as soon as I hear anything.

    I am sorry this is taking so long and thanks for your help.


    Kenneth J. Falk
    Legal Director
    ACLU of Indiana
    1031 E. Washington St.
    Indianapolis, IN 46202
    317/635-4059 ext. 229
    fax: 317/635-4105

  10. Soooo, I guess all of you idiots who want to ditch the "In God We Trust" license plates are ready to ditch all of your money as well!!! Since the same motto is printed and stamped on ALL of our currency and coin. You jerks need to get a life. If you don't like, or don't agree with the license plate, then don't get one. The minimal extra charge to make them can't possibly approach the monumental sums Indiana taxpayers dole out to good-for-nothing low-lifes who live off of the public trough all their lives. I don't ever recall the phrase "In God We Trust" harming anyone. BTW, there is NO SUCH THING as separation of church and state. The U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from establishing a state religion. The state of Indiana establishes no specific religion by putting "In God We Trust" on a license plate. Then there's the ACLU; what a useless organization. Have they ever done anything worthwhile? The answer is, "never have and never will."

  11. William, a few notes:

    -You just told a bunch of people who you don't know that they are "idiots," "jerks," and that they need to "get a life." Did that make you feel good? Is that how you approach every conversation where you don't agree with others? How does that help contribute to a reasonable discussion about an issue that's clearly important to you? Your apparent lack of respect for others is astonishing.

    -I'm sorry, but the logic of "there are other kinds of taxpayer-funded programs that are problematic, so this one isn't worth addressing" doesn't really work for me. If you'd like to argue that this is a low-priority concern in your opinion, that's fine. But that doesn't make it automatically worth ignoring altogether.

    -I don't believe we pay the Federal Reserve any extra to print currency with "In God We Trust" on it (which, you're right, is an issue worth discussing) than we would pay if the currency didn't have the slogan. In this case, taxpayers were compelled to pay for license plates with that slogan on it IN ADDITION to the existing plate printing expenses. I don't think anyone here has advocated addressing one issue to the exclusion of addressing the other.

    -You seem to think that by not establishing a *specific* religion, and by endorsing religion more generically in a reference to a generic God, we don't have to be concerned about state-endorsed religion. I would submit that even a generically-made God reference is still a strong religious statement and again, not one that I want funded in a compulsory way.

    -I'm not sure that your opinion of the utility of the ACLU is relevant to this issue, but thank you for sharing.


  12. And which God are you ASSUMING they're referring to? Could it be the one of YOUR choice? Would you rather fund illegal aliens getting free education of the taxpayers? Get a LIFE!!!!

  13. Bob: I'm assuming that since Rep. Burton attends Greenwood Christian Church, he would have introduced the bill requiring taxpayers to fund a statement that at least doesn't OPPOSE a Christian God, and probably one that SUPPORTS trusting in a Christian God. But it doesn't really matter to me; the point is that the notion of trusting in God (any God) belongs in the realm of religion, spirituality and the choices of individuals, not as a government-funded public display of faith.

    I don't see what immigration legislation has to do with this issue; you're welcome to expand your remarks if you think there's a real connection.

    The "get a life" statement seems to be a popular way to attempt to argue a counter-point to these posts. For what it's worth, I take it to mean that in the absence of actual substantive thoughts on the matter, you are left only with name-calling as a desperate parting shot.

    The irony, of course, is that most of the Gods known to humanity would likely dictate a little more respect and love in interpersonal communications than we've seen from those who would argue the importance of plastering "In God We Trust" everywhere. Hmmm.

  14. A further status update from the ACLU on 4/18/2008:

    I received today the trial court's decision in the case that you assisted me with concerning the In God We Trust license plate. Unfortunately, the court ruled against us and found that it is not unconstitutional to provide the license plate for free. I have included the decision for you. We are probably going to be appealing. Hopefully, we can get a different result in the Court of Appeals.

    Thank you for your help in the case.

    Ken Falk

    Kenneth J. Falk
    Legal Director
    ACLU of Indiana
    1031 E. Washington St.
    Indianapolis, IN 46202
    317/635-4059 ext. 229
    fax: 317/635-4105

  15. In response to William Bennett's April 12, 2008 posting:
    About these "idiots, jerks, and good-for-nothing-low-lifes" you refer to...who made these people anyway? I'm sure you didn't mean to bite the hand that made you. "Forgive them, father, for they know now what they do..."

  16. A further update today from Ken Falk of the ACLU of Indiana:

    The Court of Appeals entered its decision yesterday which, unfortunately, found that allowing the "In God We Trust" license plate to be free was not unconstitutional, even though there are administrative fees charged for other specialty plates, like the environmental license plate. No final decision has been made as to whether to ask the Indiana Supreme Court to review this case.

    I am sorry we were not successful and I thank you for your help.


    More on the court's ruling.

  17. I agree that people should have the freedom to use the "In God we trust" plate. But I wish it wasn't offered. Indiana Driving Citizens that I have observed as a resident just want to show their affiliation with Christianity but choose not to act, live or drive like a Christian. If more people followed what their "Heart" told them instead of what their "Pocketbooks" told them we'd all have much better lives.

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