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Vermont DMV taking license with discrimination

ADF attorneys file lawsuit over DMV officials’ rejection of “JOHN316” personalized license plate
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RUTLAND, Vt. — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against officials with the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles today for their rejection of a citizen’s application to have “JOHN316” displayed on his personalized license plate.

“The Constitution does not permit DMV officials to discriminate based upon the applicant’s point of view,” said ADF attorney Joshua Carden.  “Religious speech is not inferior to secular speech.  The department’s actions are clearly unconstitutional.”

ADF-allied attorney Anthony Duprey of Middlebury filed the suit, Shawn W. Byrne v. Patricia A. McDonald and Bonnie L. Rutledge, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont.

Byrne submitted his application for the special plate on April 20.  The following month, he received a letter from the DMV stating that each of his choices, including “JOHN316,” was “deemed to be a combination that refers to deity and has been denied based on that reason.”  Byrne appealed the decision, but an administrative law judge upheld the denial based on the statute that prohibits combinations that refer to “deity,” among other things.

Though DMV officials rejected Shawn Byrne’s application, they approved other plates that used names and numbers referring to religion.  “DMV officials selectively censored Mr. Byrne’s expression.  When officials suppress speech because they don’t like the message of the plate or the viewpoint it expresses, that’s illegal discrimination,” Carden explained.

“Mr. Byrne’s plate must be approved,” Carden added.  “Not only did DMV officials enforce the statute unequally when they approved another applicant’s plate that also referred to deity or religion, but the statute itself does not pass constitutional muster.  We intend to make sure that the DMV will no longer be able to discriminate against anyone based upon their religious views.”

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.