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Sunday, July 14, 2024

The right to believe, or not believe, in a god

Personalized license plates available or already taken in Virginia
Personalized license plates available or already taken in Virginia

A woman in New Jersey, who says she is an atheist, is suing that state’s department of motor vehicles because it turned down her request for a license plate that reads “8THEIST.”

New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission said the plate “may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency.”

Two hypocrisies at work here.

One, New Jersey did issue a personalized plate — “ATHE1ST” — to the president of an atheist group in the state.

Two, the woman entered the word “BAPTIST” online and it was instantly approved.

On one hand, it could be argued that allowing the use of “Baptist” on a personalized license plate violates the concept of separation of church and state.

Or, if New Jersey allowed a person who believes in a god to register a plate recognizing that person’s religion, it could also be argued that someone who does not believe in a god or religion should also have the right to display a license plate that  displays that lack of belief.

I live in Virginia, a state that only charges $10 for a personalized plate and may have the largest list of vanity plates in the nation.  So I went online with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and checked two plates: “ATHEIST” and “8THEIST.” Both are available and can be registered.

In Virginia, someone already has a license plate reading “BAPTIST.”   Someone else has “GOD.”   And ‘NO GOD” is also taken.

It is interesting that in Virginia, where religion plays a heavy-handed role in politics, it is OK to buy a personalized plate proclaiming one’s self as an “atheist” but it is not permissible in New Jersey, a state better known for the Mafia than God.

In the 19706, while working as a reporter/photographer/columnist for The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, I took part in a panel discussion on “Religion and Media” at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE).

A Catholic priest hosted the discussion and I was a panelist along with a Jewish rabbi, a fundamentalist minister and an avowed atheist.

During the discussion, a student asked the priest: “Father, why are there so many different religions?”

To which the priest replied: “I suppose it stems from which part of the Bible that religion chooses to accept as fact and which part it discards.”  He also noted that the Jewish religion discounts the existence of Christ and the New Testament of the Bible.

His answer spurred a followup question from me:  “Father, if you accept the notion that different religions can accept part of the Bible and discard other parts, how can you, as a Catholic, or representatives of other religions condemn an atheist who chooses to accept none of the Bible or even an existence of God.”

The priest sat silently for a while and then responded:  “That is a good question and it also is one for which I don’t have an answer.  I wish I did.”

The priest then asked:  “Why did you ask that question?”

I shrugged and responded: “That’s what I do.’

He followed up with another question: “Am I to assume from your question that you do not believe in God and are, therefore, an atheist.”

I shrugged again: “You are free to assume whatever you want Father.  With all due respect, my beliefs are my own business and none of yours.”

After the panel discussion ended, the priest asked me privately:  “Why did you choose not to answer my question.”

“I don’t believe on foisting my beliefs on others Father,” I responded.  “If you must know, I am a believer in God but I do not accept any organized religion as a true representative of a higher power.  I am not a member of any religious faith or church.”

He smiled and shook my hand.

“There are times,” he said, “when I agree with that feeling and I wish I could say so to the congregation.”


Copyright © 2014 Capitol Hill Blue

1 thought on “The right to believe, or not believe, in a god”

  1. I don’t have a problem with it just as long as it’s not Christian only, and especially as long as they don’t start giving grief to atheist license plates the way they used to.

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