In what is being disputed as a matter of taste over a matter of law, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles revoked a former U.S. Army sergeant’s choice of vanity license plate letters, saying that the seven-letter series "ICUHAJI" is an affront to American citizens of Arab descent.
The letters spell a derogatory phrase sometimes used by service members.
The sergeant, Sean Bujno, a veteran of two tours in Iraq who was honorably discharged in 2009, responded to the determination by pursuing legal action against the state, contending his right to free speech – and due process - was stampeded by the DMV, the Virginian-Pilot reports.
"The government can't be charged with deciding what we can and cannot say," Bujno's lawyer, Andrew D. Meyer, told the Virginian-Pilot. "There are going to be people who don't like a certain message, but that is why there is the First Amendment."
Sean Bujno, of Chesapeake, could not be reached for comment. Meyer told the newspaper that Bujno intended the plate not to offend but as a message of solidarity to his fellow soldiers.
The letters, the DMV noted, can be read as “I see you Haji,” a derogatory phrase U.S. service members have been known to use in war zones abroad to describe Arab insurgents. The agency has declined to speak publicly about the specific case.
Bujno apparently got the plates four years ago and affixed them to his car, but it was only lately that the DMV determined they were of an offensive nature, according to the Virginian-Pilot.
However, the legal director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said the DMV made the right call.
"What else could he mean? I mean, we aren't hiding," Abed Ayoub told the paper. "What if it was ICUJEW? Would we tolerate that? Absolutely not.”