An American man has sued officials in the state of Kentucky after they refused to sanction a customised licence plate that read: "IM GOD". Bennie Hart, an atheist, reportedly chose the message on his number plate to show "the impossibility of disproving anyone's claim to being God".
According to the BBC, Hart said that he had the same license plate when he was in the state of Ohio for 12 years and faced no issues. "I simply want the same opportunity to select a personal message for my licence plate just as any other driver," said Hart, who lives in Kenton County in northern Kentucky.
"There is nothing obscene or vulgar about my view that religious beliefs are subject to individual interpretation," he added. However, authorities at the transport department of the religiously conservative state believe that the plate could distract other drivers and hurt their sentiments.
Civil liberties campaigners – the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and the Freedom From Religion Foundation – are fighting the case on behalf of Hart. They have filed a lawsuit against state transportation secretary Greg Thomas on grounds of free speech.
William Sharp, legal director at the union said: "Under the US First Amendment, government officials do not have the authority to censor messages simply because they dislike them. And in this instance, personalized license plates are a form of individual speech equally deserving of First Amendment protection."
The lawsuit also claimed that state officials cited an example of another similar case in Texas, wherein the US Supreme Court had upheld Texas' refusal to issue a licence plate bearing the Confederate battle flag. In that case, the court had said in a 5-4 ruling that Texas can limit the content of license plates because they are state property and not the equivalent of a bumper sticker.
In an interview on Tuesday (22 November), Sharp said: "That case did not decide the question here, and that is whether or not personalized plates are government or individual speech. And we think ... the answer is that it is in fact individual speech."