I believe

In 2008, the state legislature of South Carolina approved a bill that provided for the production of specialty license plates that included the phrase “I Believe” and the image of a cross in front of a stained glass window.  Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer had championed the legislation and sought to ensure the creation of the new plate design through state law rather than the normal process of application with the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Objections and legal challenges to the license plates were almost immediate.  Last week, U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie ruled that the plates were unconstitutional on the basis that they violated the prohibition of the government’s establishment of religion.  The Associated Press reported that Judge Currie wrote in her decision, “Such a law amounts to a state endorsement of not only religion in general, but of a specific sect in particular…The statute is clearly unconstitutional and defense of its implementation has embroiled the state in unnecessary (and expensive) litigation.”

Many believers in Jesus Christ will no doubt see this decision as a defeat, a slap in the face to Christian faith, more evidence of the advancing secularization of our culture, and an effort to create “freedom from religion” in America rather than “freedom of religion.”  To a degree, I can sympathize with those feelings.  After all, these are just license plates.  A quick review of the South Carolina DMV website revealed that, as is the case in most states, you can get specialty license plates related to a vast multitude of organizations and causes.  There are specialty plates for in-state and out-of-state universities, decorated military service, fraternal organizations, NASCAR (even specific drivers), and Parrotheads (fans of Jimmy Buffett, for the uninitiated).  Through your license plate, you can proclaim your support of education, the environment, endangered species, and homeownership.  You can clarify whether you are affiliated with the Ancient Free Masons or the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons (I don’t have a clue what the difference is).  If you object to the “In God We Trust” plate or the “Choose Life” plate, you can opt for the one sponsored by the Secular Humanists of the Low Country which reads, “In Reason We Trust.”  With that much water already under the specialty plate bridge in South Carolina, it doesn’t seem that the addition of “I Believe” and a cross to the mix would cause such an uproar.

On the other hand, I have no real need (or interest, for that matter) to proclaim through a state-issued metal rectangle on the back of my car that I believe that Jesus Christ is the Divine, Resurrected Son of God and that He is my Redeemer, Savior, Lord, and Friend.  If my life, language, behavior, attitude, and love of others aren’t already proclaiming that, then I’m afraid a specialty tag is not going to enhance my witness all that much.  In fact, Judge Currie may have done Christians a huge favor by her ruling.  I can’t imagine any real evangelistic impact that would have resulted from the plates, or that hearts and minds would suddenly turn toward Jesus among those traveling the roadways behind cars equipped with the “I Believe” tags.  However, a lot of  “counterproductive testimony” has been prevented from Christians who drive recklessly, seriously exceed the speed limit, tailgate, text while driving, cut people off in traffic, and park illegally.  Now, they can at least remain anonymous, without implicating Christ with their behavior.  For that, we can be grateful! 

Thankfully, there are still plenty of options for Christians who want to be involved in “automobile evangelism.”  There are window decals, adhesive ichthus symbols, and a wide variety of bumper stickers.  Admittedly, all of these tend to mar the appearance and finish on our luxury cars and SUVs far more than a license plate would have, but, I guess that is just part of the cost of discipleship!