Faith-Based Ky. Group Sues Over Rejection of 'In God We Trust' Plate

A faith-based conservative group in Kentucky has filed a lawsuit over the state transportation cabinet's rejection of its proposed "In God We Trust" license plate.

In its motion for a summary judgment, Reclaim Our Culture Kentuckiana (ROCK) insisted that its specialty license plate application met all requisite statutory criteria for issuance of the plate but was "improperly denied" nonetheless.

"The Cabinet's purported grounds for the denial are inconsistent with the controlling statutory language and the Cabinet's own prior decisions under this statute are wholly unsupported by the record and are contrary to law," ROCK claimed.

"The denial also – apparently for the first time ever – applies the controlling statute to unconstitutionally discriminate against faith-motivated organizations," the group added. "The Cabinet's erroneous denial must be reversed."

According to its account, ROCK submitted an application for a specialty license plate on Nov. 26, 2007. The proposed plate, which bore the inscription "In God We Trust" embossed over the background of the American flag, would haven been made available to motorists for purchase if it were approved.

On July 11, 2008, however, the Cabinet denied ROCK's application, citing three reasons. First, the Cabinet said it believed the proposed plate does not readily identify the operator of a motor vehicle bearing the plate as a member of ROCK, or a supporter of its work, mission or goals.

Next, the Cabinet recalled how the General Assembly unanimously voted against legislation that would allowed proceeds from the specialty plate to go to ROCK. Notably, however, the General Assembly also did not pass similar legislation that would have created a similar plate without ties to ROCK. While the bill was "reported favorably by the Senate Transportation Committee," it has since been stalled in the Rules Committee.

The third reason the Cabinet noted was its concern that ROCK may be promoting a specific faith and/or religious position. It is this third point that ROCK believes its application was denied.

In response to the denial, ROCK decided to take legal action, filing the lawsuit last week that claimed the Cabinet "acted arbitrarily, capriciously, without authority, erroneously, unconstitutionally and/or contrary to law."

While ROCK admits that it is "motivated by Judeo-Christian principles," the group insists that that it does not function to promote a specific religion.

"Promoting the moral principles that are central to a religion is not nearly the same as promoting the religion itself," the group argues.

ROCK says its primary purpose is to "protect communities from the documented harms associated with pornography and sexually-oriented businesses."

The law firm representing the group, Frost Todd Brown, further argues that even if advancement of a particular faith or religion was ROCK's primary purpose, the government should not be permitted to treat religious groups differently from non-religious groups.

"If applications submitted by religious organizations are automatically denied, but applications from non-religious organizations are not, this manifestly violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law because it treats religious organizations differently than other similarly situated organizations," the law firm added.

In addition to seeking a judgment that confirms its claims against the Cabinet, ROCK is also seeking an injunction requiring the Cabinet to grant ROCK's application for a specialty plate based on the requisite statutory criteria laid out in the state constitution.

"[T]he Cabinet's decision clearly cannot be allowed to stand," the group stated, "and ROCK is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

The civil action suit, dated last Wednesday, was filed in the Franklin Circuit Court of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

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