Humanists all over the state have contacted the MHA about Mississippi’s standard license plates that display “In God We Trust.” To get a plate that doesn’t display this religious message, state residents have to pay extra for a specialty plate. We understand why our members are so upset about this, and we have been fighting hard behind the scenes to provide an additional option at no extra cost for Mississippi residents.
Get the details on how the fight started and where we are now.
The Early Stages of the IGWT Battle
We started this fight over a year ago, on May 11, 2018. Then MHA-President Kim Gibson reached out to David Niose, the Legal Director of the American Humanist Association. Kim pointed out that Mississippians who didn’t want to display IGWT on their license plates would essentially be charged a penalty since they would have to purchase a custom tag.
Mr. Niose sent Governor Phil Bryant a demand letter on the MHA’s behalf, but it appears it was ignored. This was the first step in what is proving to be a long battle over the separation of church and state.
Kim started gathering plaintiffs after reaching out to Mr. Niose. Several people signed onto help in case the issue needs to be legislated. We are continuing this process now, and anyone who wants to sign on can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The AHA and MHA Take Additional Steps
As many of you know, the MHA’s membership meeting was in February, and we now have a new President (Eric Reisman) and new Secretary (Romy Aguilar). While the board has undergone some changes, the fight against the unconstitutional license plates has remained important to us all. We continue to work in step with the AHA to come up with a solution.
The next step of the process occurred on March 29, when Mr. Niose reached out to the MHA. He discussed writing a second demand letter to Mississippi Department of Revenue Commissioner Herb Frierson and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.
The MHA agreed to sign onto the letter and Mr. Niose sent it on April 4. We think it’s important that our local chapter has a voice in this matter, so we were happy to assist.
The local press took note of the letter and quickly scheduled interviews with the AHA’s media team. The press ran with the story that an “outside atheist group is fighting the IGWT plates,” but that is only part of the story. Yes, the AHA is taking the lead on this issue, but as the local chapter, we are in lock step with our parent organization.
The MHA’s Stance
The MHA board believes this is a violation of the separation of church and state, and that is something that is important to all Mississippians, not just atheists and humanists. The separation of church and state prevents the government from making laws that favor one religion over the thousands of other religions in the world, but that’s not all.
This law also keeps the government out of religion. As long as this law is on the books, government officials cannot tell people how, when, or where to worship (or not worship).
As you can see, this is an issue for ALL MISSISSIPPIANS, not just atheists. These license plates should concern you if:
You are an atheist or humanist and are not comfortable with a religious display on your vehicle
You are religious and understand the danger of the government favoring one religion over the next
You are religious and don’t want the government to dictate your beliefs
Thus far, this issue has pitted atheists against believers, but people are missing the bigger picture. This is not an atheist, humanist, or religious issue. It’s an issue about freedom, and freedom is something all of us want, regardless of our beliefs or lack thereof.
If the wall between church and state deteriorates, we all suffer.