When the state of Kentucky nixed a man’s personalized license plate about God for being vulgar, he said the state was infringing on his rights. So, he sued, and the taxpayer will have to pay.
Bennie Hart — a self-described constitutional activist and atheist since the age of 15, who claims that he’s God — wasn’t pleased when he moved to Northern Kentucky and was told that the license plate he had for 12 years in Ohio wouldn’t be approved in his new state. That personalized plate read, “I’m God.”
Although it was fine in Ohio, where Hart drove around the state with the plate for over a decade without an issue, Kentucky felt differently about the sentiments on the plate. According to a letter Hart received from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, rejecting his application after he tried to get the plate changed following his move from Ohio, the personalization was denied because it was vulgar and obscene.
“Personalized plates are regulated by the Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) and Kentucky Administrative Regulations (KAR). Your application for the personalized license plate IM GOD has been rejected because it does not meet the requirements of KRS 186.174 and 601 KAR 9:012. Section 5,” the letter explained. “These laws dictate that a personalized plate may not be vulgar or obscene.” The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet later said the plate was offensive to good taste and decency, according to LEX18 News.
Not one to be told no and feeling the state had infringed upon his constitutional rights, Bennie Hart decided to stand up against the government. “I tell people, ‘Stand up.’ The government will run all over you if you let them. You know if you roll over and play dead, they’ll roll over you,” the 80-year-old great-grandfather of three said.
A retired postal worker, Hart added that he took an oath to uphold the Constitution and it was his civic duty. “I think the Constitution is the most sacred thing that’s ever been written. It guarantees your right to religion, speech, your right to assemble,” Hart explained. “It’s just a beautiful document,” he added. According to Hart, defending it is in his blood. “My first cousin eight times removed is Thomas Jefferson,” he said.
Hart fought the state for the right to call himself “God” on his license plate and sued the commonwealth, enlisting the support of the ACLU and the Freedom from Religion Foundation to take up his case. After a three year legal battle, he won in court, where a federal judge agreed that the state had infringed upon his rights. Saying that denying him the license plate is a violation of the First Amendment, the judge ruled in Hart’s favor, and taxpayers have to foot the bill.
According to the federal judge, Kentucky has to pay Hart’s legal fees, WKRC reported. And, that will cost the commonwealth more than $150,000 — a steep price that will be paid by the taxpayers. All Bennie gets out of it is his plates — which he now sports on both the front and back of his vehicle — and bragging rights, but he hopes the legal fight provides others a lesson in civics.
As for the theologically questionable message on his license plate, declaring that he is God, Bennie Hart said, “I’ve been an atheist since I was 15,” adding, “I can prove I’m God. You can’t prove that I’m not. I’ve got a $100 bill I’ve carried for 20 years for the first person that can prove I’m not God, and I still got it.” He also explained that his purpose is to “evoke a conversation,” spreading a political and philosophical message that faith is susceptible to individualized interpretation, WPLG Local 10 reported after an earlier interview:
Bennie Hart also made sure to tell reporters that “one of the old definitions of God is a very handsome man, his wife calls him a very handsome man, and nobody argues with his wife.” The reporter jokingly added, “I met her today, and he’s right.” Indeed, Bennie Hart is right — not about being God, but about his constitutional rights and the need to defend them. Sadly, this was a trainwreck Kentucky should have saw coming, and they would have saved taxpayers some money.
You don’t have to like the license plate or believe Bennie Hart is God to understand that it is his legal, First Amendment right to say so. We should all also be able to agree that if our constitutional rights are abused, we should stand up and defend them. And, the true measure of being in favor of free speech is a willingness to support speech with which you do not agree.