Tags are plates, not flags

LicensePlateFinal

ILLUSTRATION BY JOHN HILLER/STAFF ILLUSTRATOR

Caleb Wood
Opinion Columnist
calwood@uab.edu

caleb staff photos cmyk

It’s pretty much a consensus opinion that people with bumper stickers are a bit much, to say the least. We tend to be a little more lenient towards vanity plates, though. In Alabama, there are over 100 plates touting everything from your alma mater to your favorite NASCAR driver.  A few of those tags, though, are less innocuous than they seem. One such tag displays the Gadsden flag and the words “Don’t Tread on Me”. By itself, the tag is a toothless endorsement of an annoying political group. But, since it is an official state tag, it means even more than that. A portion of proceeds made from the sale of vanity plates goes directly to the organization who sponsored the tag. In this case, that organization is the Foundation for Moral Law, who received $85,000 from it last year, according to the Alabama Department of Revenue.It’s pretty much a consensus opinion that people with bumper stickers are a bit much, to say the least.

We tend to be a little more lenient towards vanity plates, though. In Alabama, there are over 100 plates touting everything from your alma mater to your favorite NASCAR driver.  A few of those tags, though, are less innocuous than they seem. One such tag displays the Gadsden flag and the words “Don’t Tread on Me”. By itself, the tag is a toothless endorsement of an annoying political group. But, since it is an official state tag, it means even more than that. A portion of proceeds made from the sale of vanity plates goes directly to the organization who sponsored the tag. In this case, that organization is the Foundation for Moral Law, who received $85,000 from it last year, according to the Alabama Department of Revenue.This creates a serious issue.

The Foundation for Moral Law was founded by Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court Justice famous for his two removals from the court and the accusations of sexual misconduct made against him. The money that the foundation earns from the tags is being used to fund its court fights against LGBTQ rights, the separation of church and state and a woman’s access to abortion.   Another organization taking in money from Alabama’s license plates is the Alabama Sons of Confederate Veterans. The organization main activities are promoting a skewed history of the Civil War and supporting Confederate monuments, public shrines to hate. Their tags prominently display the Confederate Battle Flag on the design, and the proceeds are used to fund the organizations’ activities.There is no reason why the government should be making anything displaying a symbol used for hate. Other states, most prominently Texas, have rejected this very design, and the US Supreme Court has supported them.

According to the court, the design of a license plate is official state speech. By putting out plates from disdainful groups, Alabama is officially siding with their beliefs.  It’s even worse when the money is factored in. Alabama is not only supporting the in theory, but it is doing so finically as well. The state has long had the means to reject the tag. The program is bound by many rules. Among them that the “message or image must be in good taste”.

How then, can anyone possibly consider tags like these is good taste?  The spread of hate is something that everyone should be working towards stopping, yet Alabama’s license plates rules are actively supporting those groups.

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