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ADF attorneys file appeal to end discrimination against religious speech on Vermont license plates

DMV denied application for reference to John 3:16 on license plate in 2004
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BURLINGTON, Vt. — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed an appeal Wednesday in a lawsuit involving a Vermont man denied the right to obtain a personalized license plate that refers to the Bible passage John 3:16.  ADF attorneys are appealing a federal district court’s Sept. 28 ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

“The Christian who requested this personalized plate should not be treated like a second-class citizen.  A personalized plate is clearly intended to reflect the views of the applicant, not the state,” said ADF attorney Jeremy Tedesco. “By not allowing individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights, DMV officials are acting illegally.”

In April 2004, Shawn Byrne submitted an application for a personalized license plate.  The following month, he received a reply letter from the DMV stating that his choices, all of which referred to John 3:16, were “deemed to be a combination that refers to deity and has been denied for that reason.”

Byrne’s initial appeal was denied by an administrative law judge, who upheld the DMV’s decision based on a statute that prohibits personalized plates that refer to “deity,” among other things. However, DMV officials have approved other plates that reference names and numbers associated with religion.

ADF attorneys filed the appeal in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont in Byrne v. Lunderville.  ADF-allied attorney Anthony Duprey filed a lawsuit on Shawn Byrne’s behalf in Jan. 2005 in the case, then called Byrne v. McDonald.  ADF attorneys filed a motion for summary judgment in March.

“For the DMV to decide that Vermont car owners can identify who they are and what they believe on personalized plates unless what identifies them is their religious beliefs is blatantly unconstitutional,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman.  “It is our intention that Shawn’s free speech be restored once and for all.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.