If you don’t know by now, you don’t care, but you’ve got a voice in what your future license plates will look like. Sort of.
Hope you like God and peaches.
The Georgia Department of Revenue is holding an online contest, allowing visitors to its site to select their favorite from a series of designs for the state’s new license plates.
All of the tags up for vote prominently feature the state’s signature low-hanging fruit when it comes to graphic design. I’m OK with that (though I think I much prefer peanuts, personally, even if Georgia has tried to shake its image as “The Goober State”), and more endeavor to depict the state’s rustic charm than they do Georgia’s more urban graces. (Surely, with more than 500 submissions though, the Department of Revenue could’ve given us at least one peanut plate to vote on.)
What has drawn the most controversy is that three of the eight choices for the “standard issue” plate substitute the ubiquitous county registration for the legend “In God We Trust.”
I’m not offended offhand by the motto “In God We Trust.” For one, I actually do trust in God. I even accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior (cue gasp from everyone who considers me utterly without faith). But I do believe that my faith is just that – mine – and I don’t adhere to the convention that I need to discuss it with everyone or foist it upon nonbelievers. If you want to know what I think about God and religion, ask me. (I consider continued readership of this blog an implicit ask, by the way.) But don’t expect me to approach you in public or knock on your front door to talk to you about it. One’s faith is a personal thing, and that we each can have a unique and individual relationship to God is something that I find to be one of the most glorious things about the Almighty.
It doesn’t bother me that it’s on currency and other official federal papers and logos. It’s not an endorsement of any particular God (or goddess, bird-headed mystic, multi-boobed embodiment of fertility, pederast cult leader, etc.), but simply a nod to a higher power, whatever that higher power might be. Remember, we are entitled to “certain inalienable rights” not by God, but simply by our “Creator.”
What does bother me, however, is that it has become a battle cry for those who would seek to shove God into other public institutions. It’s a rallying point for people who would prefer prayer in schools and prominent displays of the Ten Commandments in local courthouses. It’s apparent that its inclusion on the state’s proposed license plate designs are less about continuing a nationally-recognized symbol and more of an attempt to brand each of us as fervent Bible-huggers – regardless of whether we happen to believe in God or not.
Also, I learned when I regularly commuted to Atlanta that having the counties on the tag had certain benefits – particularly in a state that has more counties than any other state but Texas. For instance, if I saw someone on Courtland Street doing something stupid in traffic and they had, say, a Habersham tag, I knew that they most likely were lost, confused and didn’t know any better. I’ve been there, and would brake to yield to their intent. On the other hand, if that car hat a Fulton tag, I knew that odds are they weren’t lost; they were just an asshole who knew damned well that what they were endeavoring to do was an asshole thing to do.
Replacing useful information, like the county, with something as superfluous as “In God We Trust” is surrendering otherwise useful tag real estate. If we’re going to go so far as to strike the county from the tag, let’s find something useful to put there. Selling advertising, for instance? “This license plate brought to you by Quick Trip.” I could go for that. I love Quick Trip. I’d put that on my car. Or, “Back Off, Mayhem – I’m with Allstate.” That’s pretty clever. No harm there. Or, can I have a blank space that I can use to write-in whatever I like? “In Me I Trust – Henry David Thoreau” maybe?
But “In God We Trust?” Why? Is the state just trying to goad the ACLU into filing a First Amendment suit that will cost all of us taxpayers more money to defend license plates we don’t like anyway? I’m already pissed that I’m paying good money to pursue litigation against federal health insurance reform that I supported.
Of course, I assume that the number of black people driving with “Heart of Dixie” on their tags out of Alabama probably outmatches the number of atheist and agnostic Georgians who would disavow “In God We Trust,” and that hasn’t stopped Alabama. It is, however, one thing to encourage people to purchase plates that have such messages of their own choosing – as is the case with the popular wildflower tags, historic preservation tags, Sons of Confederate Veterans tags and (inexplicably) the University of Florida tags – and another to mandate that citizens will have this verbiage on their vehicles whether they like it or not.
It isn’t a matter of personal preference, but one of principle. The inscription is not inflammatory; what’s inflammatory is the motive behind it.
The actual process for picking these tags is a little foggy, anyway. Some finalists will be chosen, and then the “winner” will be announced by the governor on July 15. It does not say that the winner will be selected by majority vote; it merely kind of implies it.
You have until July 8 to go to https://etax.dor.ga.gov/TagContest.aspx
and make your “voice” heard. It’s worth it just to see Revenue Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie’s awkward, stumbling, first-take video afterward, which was evidently filmed in an abandoned law office somewhere. (If that’s really his workspace, we got to get him something for those shelves – though, in my mind, I imagine they were previously populated by a collection of wind-up walking penises that the PR staff made him shove in a drawer before they started filming.)
Vote early and vote often, friends!