God Is Not a Specialty in Indiana

| Mon Apr. 30, 2007 2:23 PM EDT

In Indiana, you can buy a specialty auto license plate that supports everything from breast cancer research to child abuse prevention to the Indianapolis Colts, but it will cost you an administrative fee of $15, and there is often a donation to the cause included, too. Mark Studler pays $40 a year for his environmental cause plate--$40 goes to the Indiana Heritage Trust, and the state of Indiana gets its $15 administrative fee.

When Studler went to renew his plate recently, however, he noticed that one specialty plate did not have an Indiana administrative fee attached: This plate has a deep blue background, an American flag streteched across the bottom, and the words "In God We Trust." Studler did not think it was fair that people with a religious preference were treated differently from those who chose other specialty plates, and last week, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and its commissioner.

The state of Indiana's defense will come as no surprise: The "In God We Trust" plate is not a specialty plate, and therefore there is no reason to tack on an extra charge for selling it. The state defines the plate as a second "standard" plate, not subject to additional fees.

540,000 drivers have chosen this "standard" plate. If it had been designated a specialty plate, the state would have made another $8 million.

"It's about making sure that nearly every other plate that carries a message has a cost attached to it, and this does not," said Indiana ACLU legal director. "In a state that's as religious as Indiana, the phrase 'In God We Trust' is not just about supporting the national motto. It's about saying you believe in God."