Is atheism obscene or objectionable? Apparently the state of Florida thinks so. Steven Miles of Gainesville was told that his vanity license plate reading ?ATHEIST? ?must be canceled.? By the way, the order sent by the state sounds like something a James Bond villain would say.
Miles has had this plate on his car for 16 years, making one wonder why it is all of a sudden offensive. I guess a lack of belief in God was more understandable during the Reagan administration. The Department of Motor Vehicles decided to take a look at Miles? plate after receiving a complaint signed by 10 people. Ten people, I?m willing to bet, who all go to the same church.
Needless to say, I disagree with the decision and the logic behind it. After 16 years, it opts to pull the tag after getting one complaint letter. Why don?t they let Miles keep the plate and just force him to be baptized? He can have the plate, and if somebody complains about it, the DMV can assure the complainant that he?s a Christian. I don?t think the word atheist belongs on a list of racial slurs and expletives. Steven Miles does not believe in a higher power, which makes him an atheist. It?s not dirty; it?s a simple statement.
The fact that the lone complaint received in 16 years was signed by 10 people strikes me as a bit suspicious. Did they all see it together or was some kind of support group formed as a result of the plate? They were probably just offended that the person didn?t share their beliefs. I?ve seen plenty of license plates that were religious in nature, that had Bible verses and various slogans promoting religion in some way. In the interest of equal time, Miles should be allowed to keep his plate. His plate could be worse; if he really wanted to drive his point home he could have applied for a plate reading ?NO GOD?.
The DMV is taking a look at the situation after getting a letter supporting Miles, but I won?t be surprised if Miles? appeal does not go in his favor. Remember, we are living in a state that issues ?choose life? license plates. It?s not uncommon for the DMV to deny a tag when the application is made, but the state issued Miles this plate in the first place. Such a reversal after such a long time does not seem right.
The DMV said that if Miles wants to express himself, he can get a bumper sticker. Fine, but what about all the previously mentioned pro-religion plates out there? What are the odds they will all get pulled with the coarse suggestion to get a bumper sticker? My guess is not very good. Miles is getting involved with the American Civil Liberties Union, saying that his First Amendment rights are being violated. I don?t see it as a freedom of statement problem so much as a separation of church and state issue. It really appears as if the DMV was willing to drop the ?ATHEIST? plate at the slightest provocation.
My problem with this whole situation is that there are many pro-religion license plates in this state. I doubt any amount of complaining will get those plates deemed offensive. And yet one that presents a view that may not be as popular is pulled suddenly. That?s just not right.
- Chris Ricketts is a sophomore majoring in English. E-mail: RuinedEye@aol.com