NEWARK, NJ – A non-profit organization promoting adoption sued New Jersey state officials this week after being repeatedly denied access to the state’s specialty license plate program. According to the lawsuit, state officials have violated the rights of Children First Foundation under the First Amendment and caused it to suffer a loss of $200,000 in annual membership fees. Children First Foundation helps women who choose life and adoption for their crisis pregnancies by providing pro-adoption funding and support that encourages adoption as a positive choice for unwanted pregnancies.
The foundation is represented by attorney Demetrios Stratis, of Wayne, New Jersey, an ally of the Alliance Defense Fund. It is also represented by Benjamin W. Bull, chief counsel of ADF, and ADF attorneys Kevin Theriot and Mike Johnson.
"New Jersey’s plate program is open to all eligible non-profit organizations, with one bigoted exception: those with a pro-life message," said Michael Johnson, counsel with ADF. "Others may exercise their freedom of speech on license plates, but not Children First Foundation. This is unconstitutional and amounts to viewpoint discrimination by the State."
Examples of non-profit corporations previously deemed eligible for license plates by the New Jersey plate program include: The Center for Food Action, Knights of Columbus, the National Police Defense Foundation, Masons, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and even an organization known as Square Dancers.
According to the lawsuit, the plate program allows unbridled discretion – arbitrary authority by state bureaucrats to choose which organizations may participate in the license program and which ones may not rather than by clear and objective standards.
"As long as decisions are made by whim, Children First Foundation will continue to suffer irreparable harm, discrimination, and financial damage," Johnson said. "New Jersey crisis pregnancy centers and maternity homes would have been the primary beneficiaries of the substantial funds raised by the sale of license plates. Many New Jersey women and infant children are now prevented from obtaining free vital services because of the state’s discrimination against Children First Foundation.
The Children First Foundation, Inc., v. Diane Legreide et al, was filed Tuesday in the Newark office of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Legreide is the former Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. Other defendants: Sharon Harrington, acting Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission; Daria Gerard, Director of Customer Operations for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission; Steve Robertson, Director of Legal and Regulatory Affairs for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission; Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General of the State of New Jersey; and James E. McGreevey, Governor of the State of New Jersey.