New Jersey Denies ‘ATHE1ST’ License Plate As ‘Offensive,’ Quickly Reverses After Media Attention

Image courtesy Dave Muscato/American Atheists. @ ReligionNews

Image courtesy Dave Muscato/American Atheists. @ ReligionNews

We’ve all seen countless cars with crosses, Jesus bumper stickers, and all manner of other religious paraphenalia, right? Most of us likely think nothing of that, right? I usually just brush it off as the fanaticism of some fundie loon. However, if you’re an atheist and wish to display your lack of belief on your vehicle, you might have had a bit of an issue in the state of New Jersey, at least until now.

American Atheists President David Silverman applied online for vanity plates that said ‘Athe1st.’ The request was denied at first. This suddenly and mysteriously changed after the situation got a bit of  media attention.

The Raw Story spoke with the Public Relations Director for American Atheists, David Muscato. He said that Silverman:

…”applied online for a custom plate that reads ‘ATHE1ST.’ ATHEIST with an ‘i’ was already taken. He got a reply on the 26th that they’re denying it because it’s ‘Objectionable or Need Further Clarification.’”

After the denial, Silverman called the Motor Vehicles Commission to inquire about the message. He was told that the content in his chosen vanity plates might be considered offensive. After that, Silverman went to the head of the special plates division, Myriam Segui, with an appeal letter.

After that, things got interesting due to the power of this lovely thing we call social media. Muscato said of that twist:

On Tuesday night, this went up on Reddit and he tweeted about it and then Richard Dawkins re-tweeted it and it just took off.

I had a chance to email with Mr. Muscato as well, and he had this to say:

“The word ‘atheist’ is not offensive; it’s how we self-identify and, in fact, fighting that stigma, the stereotype that there is something offensive about atheism, is part of the mission of our non-profit. We are proud to be atheists and to be told that there is something ‘objectionable’ or ‘offensive’ about atheism or the word ‘atheist’ is a slap in the face to our First Amendment guaranteed freedoms. The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, a government agency, has the responsibility to make sure license plates aren’t obscene or misleading—banning ‘POLICE’ or ‘SUCK IT’ is understandable. But when we are told that our identity is offensive by a state employee, it makes us into second-class citizens and that is unacceptable. Would the state dare to say that a license plate reading ‘MUSLIM’ or ‘JEWISH’ or ‘CHRISTN’ (sic) is offensive? Of course not, and for excellent reasons. The same rights apply to atheists, and we’re glad that the New Jersey MVC not only made the right decision but was so quick to right this wrong.”

I concur. I self- identify as an atheist as well. The only thing that is offensive is that anyone would find my identifying that way offensive.

Magically, on Wednesday, Silverman was contacted by the DMV and told that the denial of his vanity plates application had been a “clerical error.”

Clerical error, my ass. A DMV employee TOLD HIM that the plates were offensive! Stop trying to save face and admit that you were being bigoted. If those vanity plates had said ‘ChiSt1an, a denial never would have crossed anyone’s minds. we all know it.