80-year-old atheist wins lawsuit against Kentucky, is allowed to have ‘IM GOD’ license plate
A Kentucky man may keep a vanity license plate reading “IM GOD,” a federal judge ruled, also ordering the state Transportation Cabinet to pay Ben Hart’s lawyers $150,000.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove had previously ruled it was a violation of Hart’s right to free speech to deny him the plate, The Washington Post reported, clearing the way for him to order the tags.
“I walked out and showed the people in line,” Hart told The Washington Post. “I said, ‘You’re looking at the world’s most famous license plate.’ ”
Hart first applied for the plates in 2016 upon moving to the state after using a similar plate while living in Ohio. Kentucky denied the plate, ruling it “vulgar or obscene” and later argue it could be a safety hazard by distracting other drivers or provoking confrontations.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued on Hart’s behalf. The transportation agency defended the decision, saying any messages it approves carry an implicit “stamp of approval” from the state, but Van Tatenhove disagreed.
“Under the Transportation Cabinet’s logic, the Commonwealth is not only contradicting itself, but spewing nonsense,” Van Tatenhove wrote in a November order. “If the Court finds that vanity plates are government speech, then the Court would also be finding that Kentucky has officially endorsed the words ‘UDDER,’ ‘BOOGR,’ ‘JUICY,’ ‘W8LOSS’ and ‘FATA55.’ ”
“As the court affirmed, the denial of Ben Hart’s choice of a license plate was pure discrimination,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said in a statement. “We are delighted that the court realized the bias the state of Kentucky was displaying toward nonbelievers.”