The governing board at the Texas Department of Vehicles approved a Calvary Hill license plate featuring the slogan “One State Under God,” resulting in both praise and disappointment from supporters and opponents.
By a 4-3 vote on Thursday, the state board decided to allow the religious design created by Glory Gang, a nonprofit youth organization, to be accepted into their specialty plate program, angering some who felt the state was favoring one religion over another.
“It’s become pretty clear that our governor [Rick Perry] is dismissive of religious beliefs other than his own, and now his governmental appointees have voted to send a message that Texas is unwelcoming to the religious faiths of some of its citizens,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said in a statement.
“The truth is that giving government the power to play favorites ultimately diminishes religious freedom for everyone.”
Miller shared that the new license plate was not only disrespectful for the religious freedom of people of all faiths but for Christianity as well.
The Rev. Larry Bethune, a TFN board member and pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin, also expressed his disapproval. “I’m disappointed to see the state endorse a particular faith, even if it’s mine, and to see Christians trivialize our faith into slogans and symbols on the back of a bumper.”
Jonathan Saenz, an attorney and director of legislative affairs for the Liberty Institute, however, applauded the board’s recent decision, calling it a victory for religious freedom and free speech. He had testified before the DMV board in favor of the new plate.
“Private speech, protected by the First Amendment, should not be subjected to second class treatment,” Saenz stated in a statement. “The four members of the DMV board made the right decision. Anyone who opposed this plate either doesn’t know the law or has no respect for the First Amendment.”
The Liberty Institute, which works to protect religious freedoms for individuals, groups, and churches, believes that the phrase “One State Under God” is a reflection of Texas voters and Texas values, as a well as Texas’ support for the private religious speech of all in the state.
They stated on their blog that the specialty plate was not controversial, despite what many were saying. “In the state of Texas, the phrase ‘One State Under God’ is, in fact, decidedly noncontroversial and widely supported.”
“The phrase was added to the pledge to the Texas Flag in 2007 by the Texas Legislature ... with only one elected official voting against it,” the group pointed out. “In 2010, the fifth circuit federal court of appeals upheld the phrase ... in the Texas pledge as constitutional, after it was challenged by a couple from Dallas.”
“An issue does not become ‘controversial’ just because extreme liberal groups like Texas Freedom Network and Americans United for Separation of Church and State once again choose to attack a person’s private choice to express their strongly held religious beliefs, particularly Christianity.”
A purchase and design of a specialty license plate is after all a private decision and a private endeavor that merely passes through the DMV as one of many private or public arrangements that Texas participates in with the public, the institute noted.
The latest Calvary Hill license plate is not the first specialty license in Texas to include the word “God” or a cross, Saenz pointed out.
Specialty license plates already available in Texas contain the following phrases: “God Bless Texas,” “God Bless America,” and “One Nation Under God.” Other plates displaying one or more crosses are available in El Paso Mission Valley, University of St. Thomas, and Southwestern University.
“These extreme liberal activist groups continue to lose at the legislature, state boards, and the ballot box, and the latest stinging loss over the ‘Under God’ plate is just the most recent example of how out of touch they are with the mainstream and with Texas & American values in general,” the Liberty Institute concluded.
Miller called the plate approval by the board members the “latest disappointment in a challenging year for supporters of religious liberty.”
The “One State Under God” license plate was one of the five plates approved by the Board on Thursday. A portion of the proceeds of the sales will go to the Glory Gang, an outreach dedicated to helping at-risk children ages 3 to 12.
Glory Gang pastor Richard Konderla told The Christian Post he thought it was great that the plates had been approved.