Indiana Judge Dismisses ACLU Challenge, Upholds 'God' License Plate

A judge has upheld the issuance of Indiana license plates bearing the message "In God We Trust," dismissing a constitutional challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

Marion Superior Court Judge Gary L. Miller wrote in a 13-page opinion that the plates were comparable to standard plates issued by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and were created specifically as such by the Legislature.

"Courts are not to second-guess the Indiana General Assembly when it comes to calculations of this sort," Miller wrote, contrasting the `In God We Trust' plates with other specialty plates that require the payment of administrative fees.

Miller said the issuance of the plates did not violate the section of the Indiana Constitution that forbids the Legislature from granting special privileges or immunities not available to all citizens.

The ruling, issued April 10, denies a motion for summary judgment in the suit by the ACLU on behalf of Mark E. Studler, an Allen County resident who has an Environmental Trust plate for which he had to pay extra fees.

Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, said Thursday the ruling would be appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

"We're obviously disappointed," Falk said. "It's our position still that the differential treatment afforded between the environmental plate and the `In God We Trust' plate ... is unconstitutional, that the Legislature doesn't have the power to say the `In God We Trust' plate is free whereas the environmental plate carries an administrative fee.

"We're disappointed but we will continue to maintain our legal argument," Falk said.

The ACLU must file a notice of appeal within 30 days of the court's ruling.

The lawsuit claimed the BMV gave preferential treatment to motorists wanting the plates, which also feature the U.S. flag, because they don't have to pay the $15 administrative fee that the agency collects on sales of most other Indiana specialty plates.

The 2006 legislation creating the plates specified the state could charge no more for the "In God We Trust" plates than for the standard plates.

BMV Commissioner Ron Stiver said Thursday more than 1.6 million people have selected the "In God We Trust" plate since it became available in January 2007 as one of more than 75 options for motorists.

"The BMV will continue its policy to offer all plate designs without promoting any one license plate design over another and will continue to offer the IGWT plate design at no additional charge, as outlined by the Indiana General Assembly," Stiver said.

Republican state Rep. Woody Burton of Greenwood, who sponsored the bill to create the plate, said he was pleased with the court ruling and confident it would withstand an appeal.

"When we wrote this law we wrote it as a standard license plate costing no extra money — we deliberately wrote it that way," Burton said, adding that it has been very popular among Hoosiers.