- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2016

The terms of a settlement reached Friday in New Jersey District Court will allow a Garden State resident to order an “8THEIST” license plate for her vehicle two years after officials deemed the request too offensive to approve.

Shannon Morgan of Leesburg will be awarded $75,000 to resolve claims brought in 2014 when a religious freedom advocacy group sued the state of New Jersey on her behalf after the license plate she requested was rejected by the state Motor Vehicle Commission’s website.

The suit accused the Motor Vehicle Commission of violating Ms. Morgan’s First Amendment right to religious freedom by initially refusing to sell her the “8THEIST” plate. She had attempted to place the order through the commission’s online portal, but instead received a message telling her the request was ineligible because it “may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency.” When she attempted to order different plates — this time inscribed with the term “BAPTIST” — her request was accepted.

Ms. Morgan, an atheist, made several unsuccessful attempts to raise the issue with motor vehicle officials before a watchdog group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, filed suit in April 2014, according to court filings.

Officials initially attributed the rejection to a computer error and agreed to give Mrs. Murphy the “8THEIST” plate, but her attorneys pursued the case anyways in order to take aim at the commission’s policy against plates deemed “offensive to good taste and decency.” According to Americans United, that stipulation grants the government “unbridled discretion to prohibit speech based on the speaker’s viewpoint.”

“All Shannon Morgan ever wanted was for the state of New Jersey to stop disparaging her non-belief and cease treating her like a second-class citizen,” the group’s executive director, Barry W. Lynn, said in a statement Friday. “The lesson of this case is simple: The government should treat believers and non-believers equally.”

In addition to providing compensation to the plaintiff, the Motor Vehicle Commission also will issue a number of other vanity plates or “combinations that are substantially similar,” including: SECULAR, RATIONL, HUMANST, ATHEISM, GODLESS, HEATHEN, HERETIC, SKEPTIC, BLASFMR, REASON, EVOLVE, TRANS, LGBTR.TS, LGBTQ, PRIDE, QUEER, GAYPOWR, LGBTALY, FEMINISM, FEMINST, EQUALITY and 4WOMEN, the Associated Press reported. 

Ms. Morgan will receive her “8THEIST” plate within 60 days of paying the applicable order fees, according to the settlement.

“We’re thrilled with the decision,” Jon Green, her attorney, told NJ.com. “We’re saying its censorship of viewpoint and Judge Wolfson basically said you can’t do that.”

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