In Tag I Trust: Georgia License Plate No Place for Mandatory ‘In God We Trust’ Motto


The standard Georgia license plate: State name, letters on the left, numbers on the right, ad valorem tag on the bottom right, and, ah yes, the ubiquitous sticker detailing the county of your residence.

I rather like this feature. I get to experience the sense of indignation when I see someone with a “foreign” tag littering on my county’s roadways (how dare they!), and they provide some insight on whether someone is lost, owing to their having a tag from a distant destination, or just driving like an asshole because, damn it, you know they knew this was going to become a turn lane.

I’ve owned one “specialty” tag in my life; an “old car” tag for my ‘68 Plymouth Barracuda. Otherwise, I’ve taken the standard gummit-issued tag for every automobile each time a new tag was issued. Year after year, my wife reads off the list of specialty tags she thinks I would be interested in wearing on my car (she’s a breast cancer awareness tag herself), and I ponder whether I should break down and get something that better expresses myself – a Georgia State University tag, perhaps, or an Atlanta Falcons tag – but, no. The plain old tag fits my style just fine. Besides, if the Falcons have another losing season – and they will – then the team tag would become my bright-red “A” that I would be forced to wear in my shame, and I like my cars to be inconspicuous so as not to be recognized by anyone I might have wronged in traffic, and having a Georgia State University tag would certainly make my car much more recognizable.


Some people love specialty license plates. Me, not so much. (Courtesy

I even have, somewhere, a stack of old tags, going back many years, that my grandfather kept. Some are rusty, many are scratched and dented from wear, but they provide a small snapshot of an automotive history; each one, I imagine, lovingly crafted by an angry murderer in state custody.

Also, I admire the tag because it’s something I philosophically agree with; that is, the ad valorem tax. It’s unfortunate that it rears its ugly head each year on the anniversary of our birth, but that is at least an easy way to remember that it is due. And it is a fair tax. This perception is, perhaps, owed to the many years that I drove pitiful automobiles and, therefore, paid very little tax, but still it stands: The nicer your car, the more you’re taxed. If you want to avoid paying the tax – or pay less of it, anyway – drive a P.O.S. car like mine. Otherwise, drive a nice car, but be prepared to pay your dues.

So, when it appeared the state was considering making “In God We Trust” an official part of our tag, I was incensed.

It came to pass (eventually) that the theistic legend was added to the tag by the graphic designers who had submitted to a statewide contest to design the new plate, and that it was still the same sticker that can be purchased and affixed to the tag for a buck from your local county tax office. No big whoop.

But, State Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, has said, “why not?”, and is moving to make “In God We Trust” the official slogan on all Georgia tags, and let you pay $1 to purchase a tag with your county’s name that could be used to conceal said slogan.

Sen. Heath has led other misguided and ill-conceived legislative efforts in the past, such as his addition of “piercing” to a bill intended to ban female genital mutilation; a common practice in some African nations intended to ensure that females receive no pleasure from sex. That the bill banned piercing for women – a perfectly common and safe form of expression that many women (though none I’ve had the pleasure of dating) have performed – but not for men seemed on its face to be sexist, and further, that the addition put in danger a bill necessary to protect young women from the barbaric ritualistic traditions of their families was absurd. I left the newspaper office in Douglasville, jumped on a MARTA train, rode to the Georgia State Station, and stood for hours in front of the Capitol holding a sign that read, “Female genital piercing is a human right.”

Asked why he added that to the bill, the always-erudite then-Rep. Heath said something to the order of, “I just don’t think people should do that.” Which has been the basis of legislation going back to Hammurabi’s Code.


In the current instance of short-sighted legislative cataloging, the Senator asks: “If our nation’s motto is good enough for our currency and our patriotic songs, how can it not be acceptable for our license plates?”

As for the history of the motto on currency, I cannot improve upon the official Treasury Department history of the slogan. Suffice to say, the Civil War led to religious fervor, and the Treasury Department has abided it ever since. I do not find this offensive; as I’ve written before, I do indeed trust in God, and for those who do not, they are welcome to apply their own meaning to the phrase. I understand and agree with many of the arguments concerning removing the motto from currency; it’s just a matter upon which I’m willing to yield the floor to the opposition.

As for our patriotic songs – I’m stuck on this one. I can’t think of one from my upbringing that referenced “in God we trust.” But I see no problem with patriotic songs that seek God’s divine blessing and presence; indeed, I, too, wish he would “bless America again.”

And he is further correct that it is our national motto. So be it. But it is not our state motto, which happens to be “Wisdom, Justice and Moderation.”

(It’s that last part that we could use a lot more of when it comes to shoving our beliefs upon others.)

A government-issued tag that states the county of my residence and my unique tag number are utterly inoffensive; in fact, they’re necessary. But forcing me, by state edict, to bear upon my personal automobile a legend that implies my religious adherence is insulting and, I would propose, unconstitutional. Currency belongs to the government; my car belongs to me, and State Farm Bank. Mostly to State Farm Bank.

So, Sen. Heath, in the interest of your party’s policy of self-determination and “Don’t Tread on Me” propaganda, might I kindly suggest you take your mandatory “In God We Trust” tag and shove it in your personal collection plate.


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