God Is Not a Specialty in Indiana

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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.”

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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