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Michigan says ‘WAR SUX’ license plate is too offensive for state roads

Published time: January 02, 2014 20:57
(Image from flickr user@ouvyt)

(Image from flickr user@ouvyt)

After rejecting an anti-war license plate for being offensive, the state of Michigan defended its decision in court by arguing that it was protecting children by prohibiting an area driver from registering a vanity tag that would have read “WAR SUX.”

According to a December filing in Grand Rapids federal court, the state asked the judge to throw out a lawsuit that accuses Michigan of violating the plaintiff's First Amendment-protected freedom of speech when it rejected the proposed license plate.

Ann Arbor, Michigan’s David DeVarti is suing the state with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. He requested the plate but was denied by the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, which called the lettering offensive.

In court, the state clarified its position by suggesting the move was made with the best interest of children at heart.

“Many young children of reading age ride in vehicles and are unwillingly exposed to license plates on other vehicles,” reads the motion to dismiss the suit. “They sometimes amuse themselves by reading or playing games with license plates. And because vehicles often travel in residential neighborhoods, youth may be exposed to license plates from their yards or driveways”

In a statement to the Associated Press, Assistant Attorney General Ann Sherman added, “Drivers cannot avoid an offensive word on a license plate in front of them because they cannot safely avert their eyes.”

According to Sherman, courts have previously upheld decisions made to protect “the physical and emotional well-being of youth” even in the face of concern over First Amendment violations.

DeVarti, however, strongly disagrees with the decision.

“I feel like this is a statement of who I am,” he told CBS Detroit, “and, at the same time, I think that it’s a positive message that we should be conveying of, hey, war is a bad idea, and we should do everything we can to avoid it.

“Maybe sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I think that we should strive through diplomatic channels for peace every opportunity we have,” DeVarti concluded.

In addition to representing DeVarti, the ACLU is in the midst of a similar case involving Michigan and a local man named Michael Matwyuk. The state reportedly denied his request to secure a license plate containing the word “infidel,” though it ultimately approved the plate in September.

Meanwhile, DeVarti is far from the only person in the US who opposes the nation’s ongoing military operations. The results of a poll released earlier this week found that only 17 percent of Americans are in favor the war in Afghanistan, suggesting that support for the 12-year-old operation is now below that of what was seen during low points of the Vietnam War.

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