Motorists in South Carolina have been given the option of purchasing religious license plates that feature three crosses on a mountaintop against a sunrise backdrop.
The "I Believe" tags are created and sponsored by non-profit group www. IBELIEVEsc.net, a coalition of Christian believers. The group says the tags demonstrate a non-political way for Christians to show their faith.
Back in 2008, the state General Assembly created an "I Believe" tag that was sponsored by the government. In 2009, however, a U.S. federal judge ruled the tag unconstitutional, and the state did not appeal the decision. That left the possibility for a private organization to apply for an "I Believe" tag. In the end, the Christian coalition applied for the license plate.
"South Carolina has the ability to have these types of license plates and we decided that it was a good idea," Stu Rodman, chairman of IBELIEVEsc.net, told CP. "Once I learned about the possibility, I was excited about it."
The new religious license plate is now a totally separate initiative by a private organization and not government sponsored. This gets around the prohibition of the state being involved in the plate. IBELIEVEsc.net's application for a new tag was approved last July.
While some groups opposed the government sponsoring religious license plates, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State, most people have no such problem if the group behind the tags is private.
"We opposed the government-sponsored tags because the Constitution prohibits it," Ayesha Khan, the legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, remarked to CP. "It was unconstitutional."
"South Carolina has a system which allows private groups to seek their own initiative on the tags that doesn't run afoul of the government Constitution," Khan said. "If it doesn't violate any constitutional rights, then it's ok."
The IBELIEVE license plates are the least expensive plates available in South Carolina, at just $25. The funds generated from the sales of the plates are used to market the religious license plate, bring visitors to the related Gospel website, and pay for administrative and educational programming.
"Any money left over from the sales of the plates will help benefit community and Christian purposes," Rodman explained. "It's a great effort."
He added, "The primary purpose is to guide people to believe in Jesus Christ. This was a great way to spread the message."