Church-State Group Threatens S.C. Christian License Plate

By Michael Gryboski | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is threatening a possible legal challenge if South Carolina's governor signs into law a measure that will add a Christian license plate to the state's lengthy list of specialty tags.

The plate includes the words "I Believe" and shows a cross superimposed over a picture of a stained-glass window. It won overwhelming approval from the South Carolina Legislature last week.

In an interview with Cybercast News Service, the strict-separationist group said the plate gives Christians special treatment over other religious sects.

"The Legislature is clearly favoring Christianity over other faiths, and that violates the separation of church and state and basic fairness," said Americans United spokesman Joe Conn. "Under our Constitution, government must never favor one religion over others."

South Carolina already offers over 100 specialty tags for automobiles, including one that says "In God We Trust" and the pro-life license plate, "Choose Life S.C." Four years ago, a different pro-life specialty tag was struck down as unconstitutional by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Conn predicts the same fate for the new Christian plate, should South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford sign the bill into law.

"I hope the governor vetoes the bill," Conn said. "If he doesn't, I think there is a reasonable chance that a lawsuit will be filed challenging the new plate."

Though sponsored by a Republican senator in a GOP-dominated legislature, the bill enjoyed widespread support among Democrats, especially in the House, where it passed unanimously.

"In my opinion, it's not the state promoting religion. It's allowing the expression of your religion," said state Rep. Lester Branham (D-Lake City).

Supporters like Branham say nothing in the bill prohibits other religions from seeking their own plates, though Americans United remains skeptical.

"South Carolinians can already put a fish sticker on our vehicle bumpers if they want to; they don't need the Legislature issuing a special license plate," said Conn.

The measure awaits the governor's signature -- or veto.

"The bill has reached Gov. Sanford's desk and we are reviewing it," Joel Sawyer, Sanford's press secretary, told Cybercast News Service .

"We have no problem with the content of the tag, but [we] are studying the bill to see if it conforms with the current state process of making tags available to those nonprofit groups who request them."

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