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June 29, 2011 Governor Nathan Deal Office of the Governor 203 State Capitol Atlanta, Georgia 30334

Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie Georgia Department of Revenue 1800 Century Boulevard Atlanta, Georgia 30345-3205

Re: In God We Trust on Georgia License Plates Governor Deal and Mr. MacGinnitie: It has come to our attention that the Georgia Department of Revenue, in a press release1 dated June 24, 2011, announced an online public contest2 to select finalists for Georgias next standard issue license plate, to be produced beginning in 2012. The release invites the public to vote for which of eight possible designs best represents the State of Georgia, with the three designs that receive the most votes to be presented to the Governor, who will select a single final winning design on July 15, 2011. Three of the eight proposed designs prominently include the phrase In God We Trust. The American Humanist Association is a national nonprofit organization with over 10,000 members and 20,000 supporters across the country, including in Georgia. The mission of the AHAs legal center is to protect the fundamental constitutional principles of our democracy requiring separation of church and state3 and legal equality4 for all regardless of their religious views, including in particular for humanists, atheists and other freethinkers. I write to inform you that if the Governor were to adopt a standard-issue license plate design featuring the religious message In God We Trust, the State of Georgia would violate the Establishment Clause and the Free Speech Clause of the U.S. Constitution and would be subject to suit for such violation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 in federal court.

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The press release was posted at https://etax.dor.ga.gov/pressrel/DORrel62411.pdf. Voting is taking place at https://etax.dor.ga.gov/TagContest.aspx. 3 The very first sentence of the Bill of Rights mandates that the state be secular: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. This provision, known as the Establishment Clause, build[s] a wall of separation between church and State. See Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 164 (1878); Pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment the Establishment Clause applies to the states. See Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303 (1940). 4 The Fourteenth Amendment provides in part: No state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. This provision, known as the Equal Protection Clause, prohibits governmental discrimination on the basis of religious views, such as humanism and atheism, absent a compelling government interest.

The words In God We Trust necessarily impart an inherently religious message: a (single) God exists, and is there to protect us. This is not an empty, noncontroversial message that all can embrace: atheists and agnostics (who constitute more than 16% of the American population), 5 as well as nontheists (such as many Buddhists and Taoists), do not believe in the existence of any God or gods; polytheists (such as Hindus and many pagans) believe there are many gods; deists (such as a great many of Americas Founding Fathers) reject organized religion and miracles but believe in a God who created the Universe but who no longer intervenes in the world (and so does not protect us). First, the Supreme Court has held that the Establishment Clause requires that any governmental action which touches upon religion must not advance religion. County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573, 590 (1989). Specifically, the government may not promote or affiliate itself with any religious doctrine. Id. Courts pay particularly close attention to whether the challenged governmental practice either has the purpose or effect of [unconstitutionally] endorsing religion. Id. at 591. Endorsement includes conveying or attempting to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred. Id. at 593. Not only may the government not advance, promote, affiliate with, endorse, prefer or favor any particular religion, it may not favor religious belief [in general] over disbelief. Id.6 In short, the Constitution demands governmental neutrality between . . . religion and nonreligion. McCreary County v. ACLU of Ky., 545 U.S. 844, 860 (2005). Because the Georgia In God We Trust license plate under consideration would be chosen by the Governor, the state would be endorsing and affiliating itself with the monotheistic religious message on these plates by selecting them. When a state itself chooses to create and promote a license plate with a religious message, it endorses that message in violation of the Establishment Clause. See e.g. Summers v. Adams, 669 F. Supp. 2d 637 (D.S.C. 2009). The fact that the religious message may be nonsectarian does not mitigate this violation; the Supreme Court has expressly rejected the view that the Establishment Clause does not bar the government from advancing a generalized, nonsectarian biblical monotheism of the sort that the motto embodies. See e.g. McCreary at 879-80 (rejecting the view that the government may espouse . . . traditional Monotheism) and Allegheny at 615 (stating that [t]he simultaneous endorsement of Judaism and Christianity is no less constitutionally infirm that the endorsement of Christianity alone). Second, the adoption of a standard-issue In God We Trust license plate would violate the free speech rights of those who object to that message but are issued such plates by default. In Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705, 713 (1977), a case involving a New Hampshire license plates displaying the states motto Live Free or Die,7 the Supreme Court ruled that a state cannot require
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According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Lifes Religious Landscape Survey (2008), 16.1% of Americans are atheist, agnostic or otherwise have no religion. This percentage is nearly as large as Catholics (at 23%) and much larger than the number of Jews (1.7%), Orthodox Christians (0.6%), Muslims (0.6%), Hindus (0.4%), Buddhists(0.7%) or Mormons (1.7%). 6 The Court in Allegheny noted that [p]erhaps in the early days of the Republic [the words of the Establishment Clause] were understood to protect only the diversity within Christianity, but today they are recognized as guaranteeing religious liberty and equality to the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Islam or Judaism. See also Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104 (holding that the First Amendment requires governmental neutrality between . . . religion and nonreligion) and McCreary (holding that the Establishment Clause protect[s] adherents of all religions, as well as those who believe in no religion at all). 7 Note that the Supreme Court majority in Wooley, in response to an argument raised by the dissent, concluded that In God We Trust as it appears on currency presents a different issue than if it were to appear on a license plate. The Court noted that currency, which is passed from hand to hand, differs in significant respects from an automobile, which is

an individual to participate in the dissemination of an ideological message by displaying it on his private property in a manner and for the express purpose that it be observed and read by the public. This is because freedom of speech includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking. Id. at 714. A state measure which forces an individual, as part of his daily life indeed constantly while his automobile is in public viewto be an instrument for fostering public adherence to an ideological point of view he finds unacceptable violates this latter right. Id. at 715. If Georgia were to select a plate with an ideological message such as In God We Trust as its new standard issue plate, it would violate the First Amendment right of its citizens not to promote this message.8 The fact that a majority of Georgians, or of those voting in the online contest, may agree with the states endorsement of the religious message of In God We Trust is of no legal significance. The very nature of the democracy established by our Constitution is such that, although the will of majority generally governs, our fundamental civil rights and liberties are not put to a vote. See West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, 638 (1943) (stating that [t]he very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts). The Establishment and Free Speech Clauses protect just such fundamental rights that are not subject to the will of the majority. See e.g. McCreary at 884 (stating that courts do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment). Finally, if Georgia is seeking a unifying, patriotic motto for its license plates, we suggest an alternative: E Pluribus Unum. This motto, Latin for Out of Many, One, has appeared on the Seal of the United States since 1782 and on U.S. currency since 1795. It simultaneously celebrates the diversity of our origins and our national unity as Americans. It was replaced by the divisive In God We Trust as our official national motto only in 1956, at the height of the Joseph McCarthys anticommunist demagogy. Unlike that motto, however, it serves to unite rather than divide us on religious lines. We respectfully request that you not approve any standard-issue license plate bearing the unconstitutional message In God We Trust. Please notify us in writing about the steps you are taking to avoid this constitutional violation and therefore any potential litigation. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Sincerely,

William J. Burgess Appignani Humanist Legal Center American Humanist Association

readily associated with its operator. Currency is generally carried in a purse or pocket and need not be displayed to the public. The bearer of currency is thus not required to publicly advertise the national motto. Wooley at 722 n.15. 8 Note that, in contrast to a license plate submitted and approved by a private group, there is no argument that a standard issue plate such as that at issue here amounts to voluntarily adopted private speech. Georgia motorists would be issued this plate simply as a result of registering a vehicle in the state without affirmatively choosing the In God We Trust message.