- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.
The "Choose life" license plate is proving to be popular, with Floridians buying 500 a week since the plate made its debut in August. It's outselling most of the state's 50 other specialty plates.
But this particular license plate still faces a legal challenge, and that raises a question: If the plate's opponents were to win in court, what would happen to the thousands of "Choose life" plates already on cars?
No one knows the answer to that. Plate supporters say it's a moot point because they expect to prevail in court.
The plates raise money for charities that help pregnant women who are putting up their babies for adoption. Opponents argue that the plates are really a state-sanctioned political statement against abortion.
"They're still trying to make it an abortion issue, which it has never been," said state Sen. Jim Sebesta, a Republican from St. Petersburg who was one of the plate's chief sponsors in the Florida Legislature.
Nearly 8,400 Florida drivers have plunked down an extra $22 for a "Choose life" plate since the tags went on sale. The county with the most sales is Palm Beach County. The license plate's popularity doesn't matter, its detractors say. They say "Choose life" is an anti-abortion slogan lifted straight from Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Bible, and the tag is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of church and state.
If the tag's purpose is really to promote adoption, they ask, then why did state lawmakers reject alternate slogans like "Support Adoption"?
"The real motive is the adoption of a religious slogan by the state of Florida," said Boca Raton lawyer Barry Silver, who is representing the National Organization for Women and other groups suing the state over the plate. A court date is set for February in Tallahassee, in Leon County Circuit Court.
Mr. Silver argues that Florida has started selling the plates too quickly, before the courts have decided whether they are even legal.
What would happen if the plate's opponents won in court? Officials say it would depend on the judge.
"It's an open question as to what a judge might rule," said Robert Sanchez, spokesman for the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which distributes license plates.
"At the very least, if the plaintiffs prevailed, a judge would probably order that sales cease immediately," Mr. Sanchez said. "Whether the judge would also order the plates that have been sold to be recalled there's no way to know."
The "Choose life" plate is bright yellow with crayonlike drawings of two children's faces. Lawmakers approved the plate in 1998, but former Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, vetoed it. Lawmakers approved it again last year, and Republican Gov. Jeb Bush signed it into law.
Then the plate's opponents got a West Palm Beach judge to block sales of the plate, but their lawsuit was moved to a Tallahassee court and the injunction ended.
Mr. Sebesta, who worked for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg for a decade before he was elected, insists that the "Choose life" tag is about adoption.
One of his daughters and her husband tried for years to adopt a child. With so many couples wanting to adopt, Mr. Sebesta asks, why not make it easier for expectant mothers to carry their children to term?
Distributed by Scripps Howard

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