Tennessee's new pro-life license plate -- which is not even in circulation yet -- has caused such an outcry that abortion advocacy groups have carried the state to court.
The license plate, which displays the phrase "Choose Life," along with a picture of a smiling infant, is causing a problem for organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood because the state did not offer a "Pro-Choice" alternative. The legal battle has now made its way to Cincinnati, in the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"When the state of Tennessee approved an anti-abortion license plate and failed to do the same for a pro-choice plate, it effectively cut off public discussion," said Julie Sternberg, the ACLU counsel on the case.
"The lower court made clear that the state cannot open up a forum for public debate on abortion without allowing both sides an equal opportunity to express their position. We are hopeful that the appeals court will do the same."
In 2004, a federal district court blocked the license plate from entering the market, saying the state didn't have the authority to create such an item.
The state then appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court, at the taxpayers expense, to fight this injustice.
Another official with the ACLU, Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee,said free speech is at the heart of the fight.
"This is not about being on one side or the other of the abortion debate. It is about being on the side of free speech for all."
One has to wonder, though, if the ACLU realizes, or even cares, about the Biblical implications associated with this legal battle.
Granted, the law of man says the pro-choice group has the right to its own license plate. God's law, which trumps man's law, would bring that into question. People say they want the government to be more responsible, yet when they try to be, they get attacked for it.
Abortion rights activists, with the ACLU in tow, say they are being discriminated against with the new license plates. The panel of judges representing the Circuit Court of Appeals has taken the case under advisement and has not determined when it will rule.
Several years ago, the Tennessee Legislature began a special program that allows private groups to participate in the revenue sharing of funds collected on special license plates, which are an extra $35. Over the past several years, 90 different special plates have been created, and the monies have benefited such projects as state parks, agriculture, colleges, arts and various other areas of interest. In the case of Tennessee's Choose Life plate, half of the funds raised, after expenses, go to the pro-life group New Life Resources, an outreach of Tennessee Right to Life.
The Choose Life plates were created in 2003 by a legislative bill, but a subsequent amendment to allow the Pro-Choice alternative was voted down. Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen allowed the measure to become law without his signature, and then called for a review of the entire specialty plate program.
That is when the ACLU entered the picture and, along with Planned Parenthood and three individuals, challenged the Choose Life specialty plates. In September 2004, a federal judge in Tennessee ruled in favor of the ACLU, citing a ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a similar case in South Carolina.
New Life Resources argued that the Choose Life plates were no different than anti-drug messages or messages geared at urging children to finish school. But the ACLU countered that no state has the right to deliver such a message.
Tennessee Right to Life is urging those who want the Choose Life license plate to contact their legislators and the court system, expressing their support for the Choose Life plates -- and their opposition to efforts seeking to prevent the proposed pro-life plates from ever being seen on the road.
Strangely enough, no one has bothered to challenge any of the college fraternity specialty plates, or the Masons plate, for example, despite their controversial practices and doctrine.
For now, we can only hope that the Sixth Circuit Court has the sensibility to wade through this sticky and potentially electrifying decision.
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