Brian Magee: Why ISNOGOD?

Atheists, secular humanists, agnostics, freethinkers, etc. are on the front lines of the battle to keep freedom of religion alive. Believers seem either to be silent or in support of a return to a fantasy “Christian nation” era that never existed, fighting to push the country to a place where freedom of religion disappears.

Freedom of religion can’t exist in a nation if the government picks one. The choosing of one religion means that followers of other religions (or no religion) will not be completely free. The power of government is too unpredictable, powerful, and unwieldy to provide freedom of religion if the government decides on one. The only way to allow freedom of religion to exist is for the government to stay as far away from religion as possible.

When I began to see license plates expressing and promoting belief in god in and around Fargo, ND, I started to worry a little because I had not seen any expressing a non-theist sentiment.

A license plate is the property of the state government. Personalized, or “vanity”, plates are individually reviewed by a panel of government employees. They discuss, debate, and specifically approve for display all messages placed on those roaming pieces of government property. In the case of the pro-god license plates – I photographed plates reading “ILOVGOD”, “TRI GOD”, and “PRZZGOD” — they chose to allow government property to communicate an exclusive religious viewpoint. Was this their intent, or had nobody asked for a plate with a non-theist message? I decided to find out, and applied for a personalized plate sharing my position about deities: “ISNOGOD”.

I mailed my application and fee on a Monday, and promptly received a call that Wednesday from a polite staffer informing me that my application had been denied. I asked if I could appeal. After some research, a supervisor called me back and told me I could appeal to the Director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, the only person in NDDOT with the authority to reverse the decisions of the plate-review panel.

I wrote a letter to the director, Francis G. Ziegler, and included pictures of the pro-belief plates I had seen. In the appeal, I asked that all plates with a religious message be recalled and mine be rejected, too. As a second option, I asked that my plate be approved and future applications for plates with similar messages also be granted. My second option was chosen the following week.

The reason my first choice was to recall all plates with religious messages is because it is the best option in the drive to protect freedom of religion. The government should not even be coming close to making or endorsing statements in regard to religion that could be construed as pro- or anti- any point of view on the subject. The easiest way to do that is to just stay out of it — completely out.

As far as I know, no religious person or group fights for religious freedom in this way, by trying to stop the government and religion from metaphorically holding hands. They shouldn’t even be winking at each other from across the room. If anyone wants to make a valid claim of trying to protect American ideals and freedoms, let them fight for freedom of religion, not try and drag us toward their version of a “Christian nation.” That is not American. Not even close.

Brian Magee hosts Appreciate Your Mind 11 a.m. – noon Saturdays on KNDS, 96.3 FM in Fargo, ND. Stream the show live at www.kndsradio.com, or download podcasts at AppreciateYourMind.podomatic.com.

Keep in touch with Brian through the Appreciate Your Mind Facebook page.

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