In court, an attorney for [Americans United for Separation of Church and State] said state lawmakers had approved what she called a "uniquely Christian" license plate....
"The question really presented here is whether government should be allowed to exclude a religious message precisely because it's religious. Are we going to say it's okay in the public square to express a preference for a secular humanist position of 'In God we trust' or a preference for a football team or a university? And then at the same time say any expression of a religious viewpoint is per se, impermissible," said DMV attorney Kevin Hall....
I wrote about the "I Believe" license plate back in July:
The "I Believe" specialty plate is almost surely a state endorsement of Christianity that violates the Establishment Clause. (There's no array of specialty plates for different religions and no atheist plate. What would an atheist plate look like?)But I'm taken aback by the federal judge's incredibly skimpy analysis of the legal question. (PDF.) After articulating the 3-part "Lemon test," Cameron McGowan Currie simply asserts:
Based on the record now before the court, the court finds it unlikely that the I Believe Act satisfies even one of these three requirements. As the Act must satisfy all three requirements to survive constitutional scrutiny, the court concludes Plaintiffs have made a strong showing of likelihood of success on the merits as to their Establishment Clause Claim.That says nothing more than: I think it's unlikely that any of the 3 parts of the test is met. Nothing about why and no acknowledgment of the counter-arguments. It's a serious question, and it is certain that if the Supreme Court were to look at this case, it would take more than an invocation of the much-maligned Lemon test to say no to South Carolina's fund-raising and facilitation of individual expression via license plate.
***I won't bore you with a disquisition on the history of the Lemon test. I'll just entertain you with Justice Scalia's famous mockery of the Court's spotty reliance on it:
[L]ike some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad after being repeatedly killed and buried, Lemon stalks our Establishment Clause jurisprudence once again, frightening the little children and school attorneys of Center Moriches Union Free School District. Its most recent burial, only last Term, was, to be sure, not fully six-feet under: our decision in Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992), conspicuously avoided using the supposed "test," but also declined the invitation to repudiate it. Over the years, however, no fewer than five of the currently sitting Justices have, in their own opinions, personally driven pencils through the creature's heart (the author of today's opinion repeatedly), and a sixth has joined an opinion doing so. [Citations omitted.]And so, Judge Currie has prodded the old monster.
The secret of the Lemon test's survival, I think, is that it is so easy to kill. It is there to scare us (and our audience) when we wish it to do so, but we can command it to return to the tomb at will. See, e.g., Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 679 (1984) (noting instances in which Court has not applied Lemon test). When we wish to strike down a practice it forbids, we invoke it, see, e.g., Aguilar v. Fenton, 473 U.S. 402 (1985) (striking down state remedial education program administered in part in parochial schools); when we wish to uphold a practice it forbids, we ignore it entirely, see Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983) (upholding state legislative chaplains). Sometimes, we take a middle course, calling its three prongs "no more than helpful signposts," Hunt v. McNair, 413 U.S. 734, 741 (1973). Such a docile and useful monster is worth keeping around, at least in a somnolent state; one never knows when one might need him.