Atheist sues Kentucky for denying use of 'IM GOD' license plate

An atheist has sued Kentucky's Transportation Cabinet for not being allowed to use a vanity license plate that reads: "IM GOD" even though he had reportedly used the same plate for 12 years when he was still living in Ohio.

(Reuters/Robert Galbraith)A vanity license plate is seen during the annual ''Woodies on the Wharf'' event at the wharf in Santa Cruz, California. June 27, 2009.

American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Kentucky chapter and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a lawsuit in district court alleging that atheist Bennie Hart's request to use the "IM GOD" license plate should be honored. The suit also alleges that the denial to let Hart use his desired license plate infringes on his right to free speech, The Christian Post relays.

"[T]he threat of repeated enforcement by Defendant ... to deny Plaintiffs future application impermissibly discriminates against Plaintiffs speech on the basis of content and/or viewpoint, and has chilled and continues to chill Plaintiff's protected speech, thereby depriving him of rights secured by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution," the lawsuit says.

Hart had previously lived in Ohio before moving to Kentucky in February. He had submitted an application to Kentucky's Division of Motor Vehicle Licensing for the use of the same plate had used for 12 years in his previous place of residence.

However, the division sent him a letter in March denying his request and explaining that the "IM GOD" plate violated laws against "vulgar or obscene" statements on license plates. A month later, Hart said officials told him that the "IM GOD" plate was in poor taste and could spark confrontations with other people.

On the other hand, Kentucky has cited a 2015 Supreme Court ruling in a case involving a license plate with the Confederate flag. The state says the case provides the needed precedent for Hart's case, Yahoo! News reports.

In addition, Kentucky claims the Supreme Court has decided that states have the right to discriminate based on content. Plus, the state says license plates do not fall under individual free speech but under state speech.