Somebody was asleep at the wheel at Minnesota's Department of Public Safety when a bureaucrat let slide through a request for personalized truck license plates that said "FMUSLMS." Now officials have apologized and have removed the plates.
The shocking message came to public attention when a photo of the licence plate with the message was posted on Facebook by an angry local Somali activist Haji Yusuf. He said the photo was snapped by a high school student in St. Cloud who spotted the plate on a parked red truck.
Yusuf is a founding member of the advocacy group #UniteCloud, which works with the entire St. Cloud community to stop discrimination, including prejudice against Muslims.
Local officials were stunned at what they had done.
"This personalized license plate should never have been issued; it is offensive and distasteful," said a statement from the Department of Public Safety provided to the local Fox 9 TV station..
"We are in the process of revoking and taking possession of the plates. The Department of Public Safety apologizes for this error."
Officials of the Department's Driver and Vehicle Services Division are reviewing the procedure for approving personalized license plates, and will "immediately provide additional review and oversight of applications," the statement added.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said he was "appalled" the plates were issued by the state of Minnesota. "It is offensive, and the person who requested it should be ashamed," he added.
"That prejudice has no place in Minnesota. I have instructed the commissioner of Public Safety to retrieve this plate and re-review agency procedures to ensure it does not occur again."
The plates were ordered by an unidentified resident man from Foley, Minnesota, who turned them in to officials.
Personalized plates, which cost users a $100 initial fee on top of a $10 filing fee, are a big money-maker for states. But offensive messages can slip past inattentive or letter-weary checkers.
The plate ended up having the opposite impact of its intention and has served to draw people in the St. Cloud area together instead of rip them apart.
Yusuf and #UniteCloud co-founder Nalalie Ringsmuth said they were impressed by the positive impact of the Facebook post about the plate.
"That really is what #UniteCloud is all about," Ringsmuth told a local radio station. "The fact is that central Minnesota residents responded by calling and emailing local and state governments, and we were able to get a quick response."
Usuf and Ringsmuth said that they didn't want to see the state worker who approved the plate fired, the local NBC affiliate reported. Rather, they asked that it be used as an opportunity for both the worker and the man who purchased the license plate "to take time and reflect and learn about Islam."