A recently passed state license plate law has come under fire from the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, which claims the law violates the first amendment.
The organization is suing the state because the law, which offers a variety of new specialty license plates, includes a pro-life option — but not a pro-choice alternative.
The pro-life specialty plate features the phrase “Choose Life” and would be available to drivers for an additional $25 fee.
“We don’t have a problem with the ‘Choose Life’ plate as long as there’s a pro-choice alternative,” said Katy Parker, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina.
She said the law is in violation of the first amendment right to free speech and is also an issue of freedom and equality.
“It’s clear from the legislative record that the legislators were very intent on forcing the anti-choice side of the issue and preventing the pro-choice side from getting out there,” Parker said.
She said there is a preliminary hearing for the suit Dec. 1, and the state has agreed not to produce the specialty license plates until then.
“We feel that the case law is very strong in our favor,” Parker said.
This case is similar to one in South Carolina where a district court ruled that a state law which provided a “Choose Life” plate but no pro-choice option was unconstitutional, she said.
Proceeds from North Carolina’s “Choose Life” license plate sales would go to pregnancy crisis centers across the state, said N.C. Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-Burke, who sponsored the bill.
According to the law, money raised from the sale of the plates would be transferred to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, which distributes money to nonprofit groups that provide services and counseling to pregnant women.
Gillespie said he does not support the pro-choice movement and did not want to include a pro-choice license plate on his bill.
“That was my legislation, and I didn’t want it attached to my name and bill,” he said.
Parker said other legislators presented six amendments to the bill that would have added a respect choice option, but they were all voted down.
Gillespie said if one of the amendments had passed he would have let the bill die.
“They only wanted to do it in order to defeat my bill,” he said.
UNC law professor William Marshall said the ACLU has a strong case.
The first amendment prohibits the government from engaging in viewpoint discrimination, Marshall said.
“The government can’t get engaged in what is known as viewpoint discrimination,” he said. “To the extent that this law does that, it could be problematic.
“This is an issue of speech.”
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