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NJ ‘Choose Life’ license plates case renewed in courtroom

ADF attorneys successfully appeal dismissal, continue fight for pro-adoption organization to offer specialty license plates

PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit issued an opinion Friday to reinstate a lawsuit dismissed by a district court in 2008 that sought to keep the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission from rejecting a pro-adoption organization’s “Choose Life” license plates. Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed the lawsuit five years ago after the commission repeatedly refused to grant The Children First Foundation’s application for the specialty plates.

“The government should not be singling out a pro-adoption group for censorship. Censoring the ‘Choose Life’ logo on New Jersey license plates is a textbook case of viewpoint discrimination, which blatantly defies the First Amendment,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeff Shafer. “We are pleased that the appellate court has reinstated this lawsuit and look forward to the full vindication of the foundation’s free speech rights.”

In May 2004, ADF attorneys filed suit after New Jersey officials rejected The Children First Foundation’s plates because its “Choose Life” slogan was declared to be too “controversial” and “political.” The officials later attempted to amend their censorship justification, saying the plate was rejected because it contained “advocacy.” However, the lawsuit pointed out that the New Jersey special plate program was designed for advocacy and that the state has approved specialty plates for other organizations that present advocacy messages.

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey refused to dismiss the lawsuit in March 2005. A new judge assigned to the case dismissed it in June 2008, and ADF attorneys appealed the dismissal. Demetrios Stratis, one of more than 1,600 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit, The Children First Foundation v. Legreide.

In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit cleared the way for the full approval of “Choose Life” specialty license plates in Missouri. Last November, a federal court ordered the Arizona License Plate Commission to approve a “Choose Life” plate in that state. In both cases, the “Choose Life” plates were singled out for denial even though the specialty plates of other organizations had been approved.

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.

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