Thursday, April 24, 2008

Florida's "I Believe"License Plates

Apparently, the Florida state legislature is approving a vanity license plate that has a specifically Christian message. (Source: CNN)

The plate contains a cross, a stained glass window, and the words, "I believe."

I have absolutely zero problem with this. For two reasons. The first is that the purchase is entirely voluntary. The second is that the plate contains the word "I", not the word "We". So, it is a statement about the owner of the car, and a statement that will almost certainly be true whenever it is displayed.

In fact, I think it would be a huge embarrassment to oppose this particular act. An embarrassment - not because people would react with hostility towards such a prohibition, but because they have good reason to do so.


Anonymous said...

From CNN: Bullard, the plate's sponsor, isn't sure all groups should be able to express their preference. If atheists came up with an "I Don't Believe" plate, for example, he would probably oppose it.

I have a problem with that kind of hypocrisy. Why can't freedom of religion include freedom to have a lack of?

Alonzo Fyfe said...


I have a problem with that kind of hypocrisy as well. But the solution to slavery was not to enslave white people, but to free the blacks. The problem with this is not to prohibit Christians from buying such a plate, but to target the bigots who will now allow atheists to do something similar.

In fact, I would encourage Florida atheists to do just that - to get an "I do not believe" plate passed, and use this to point out the hypocrisy (and, thus, the immorality) of those who would oppose it.

Brian Westley said...

I think that's a bad route to try -- it's possible an atheist plate would be rejected, and the legislature wouldn't care. Institutionalized and approved bigotry.

It would be better in my opinion to lobby for a content-neutral policy for such plates, based on neutral criteria (such as a minimum pre-order of 500 plates).

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Brian Westley

See, this is where I most emphatically disagree. Atheists should try for the plate. It will be rejected. The legislature displays its apathy, then the atheists use this to protest anti-atheist bigotry in government and make it a front-page news item that the legislature is a bunch of hypocrites and that christianity as it is practiced in the state of Florida is the same as bigotry.

The problem is not that the legislature will not care. The problem is that the atheists do not care. They just want to cry about the fact that the legislature is made up of hypocrites, but they want to wait for somebody else (God?) to do something about it.

Anonymous said...

Aren't "In God We Trust" tags free in Indiana?

Brian Westley said...

I don't see much difference between your desired scenario (where atheists protest about legislators being hypocrites) vs. just wanting to cry that the legislature is made up of hypocrites...

Eneasz said...

"Just crying about it" means complaining to a few friends who already agree with you and not doing anything to change the social climate.

Protesting, on the other hand, draws visibility, and lets those legislators know they are alienating some of their voters. A good protest which receives media attention and is observed by a moral audience will win some converts.

Proceed from there.

brian westley said...

That doesn't appear to be the difference between Alonzo's scenario and mine; in both cases, atheists are taking their case to the legislature.

G-man said...

I'm actually curious about hypocrisy, Alonzo.

You mentioned the hypocrisy (and, thus, the immorality) of some people. Yet I've been thinking about it, and I I'm leaning toward the conclusion that hypocrisy is not, necessarily, morally wrong. We can ask if we'd be better off in a culture full of hypocrites... but if those hypocrites publicly scoff at kind deeds, but behind the scenes are extravagant benefactors of charitable causes, I don't think we'd have much cause to complain.

I think the problem could be that most hypocrites are hypocritical about bad things - they put up a good face, but are bad people. That, I think, is condemnable, but I'm really not sure if hypocrisy, of itself, is always bad.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Welcome back.

Well, one complaint that I would have against the type of hypocrite you mention is that he is discouraging the type of generosity that he is engaged in.

If we take the generosity he does to be a good thing, then it is something that we have reason to encourage people to do. But this guy is not encouraging others - he is discouraging them.

Indeed, there is a risk that the culture of unkindness that he perpetuates (which, admittedly, is contrary to his own behavior) does more harm than the good he performs. It, at least, subtracts from any good he performs.

G-man said...

I think you're probably right about that... another criticism might be that hypocrisy always involves dishonesty, on some level.

G-man said...

By the way, I'm excited to see all the traffic on your site. I wonder if desire utilitarianism is beginning to reach a Malcolm Gladwell-esque tipping point. Who knows, maybe Wikipedia will finally allow a DU page!

4Real said...

As a Floridian Atheist, I completely object to my state endorsing one religion over another (cross + stained glass window - pretty obvious which one is being favored), or favoring religion over non-religion. If the plates are free, it further discriminates, as does the state of Indiana, by not charging more as they do for other vanity plates (such as my Tampa Bay Lightning plate). I would be assessed a fee for funding (taxing) purposes to support these plates if they do not charge the higher vanity plate fee.
The state is loaded with "I believe" type bumper stickers, making this plate totally redundant, immoral, and of course, completely unconstitutional. The words "I believe + the religious symbols" cannot be deemed anything but religious and non-neutral, as it constitutionally must be. I am not being offered or proposing an "Another Florida Atheist" plate. The state cannot print "In no god we trust" money or have a pledge "under no god", although I would prefer them. It must be completely neutral in it's endorsement "1st amendment" by not stating anything concerning religion.

Marie said...

So they want "I believe" plates, eh? I say fine, as long as it is followed by exactly what they believe in.

Wouldn't THAT make for an interesting traffic jam?

I believe in _____________.

Fill in the blank. How about they come with a Sharpie pen, then they could be changed each day.

A few ideas?

I believe in spaying and neutering.
I believe in tipping.
I believe in flossing.
I believe in Santa Claus.