State of Kentucky must pay atheist $150K after denying him vanity license plate

In 2016, the state of Kentucky told an atheist he couldn’t use an “IM GOD” license plate. Now, that’s coming back to haunt the state in an expensive way, thanks to a lawsuit he filed with the help of the ACLU of Kentucky and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF.) That lawsuit has now been settled and the state will be required to pay Bennie Hart (the driver in question) over $150,000 in attorney fees and litigation costs, Friendly Atheist notes.

The FFRF notes that the head of Kentucky’s Division of Motor Vehicles rejected Hart’s request for the license plate even though it’s the same license plate he’d been using while driving around Ohio for more than a decade with no incidence.

DMV officials contended the license plate message was “obscene or vulgar,” and rejected Hart’s request in 2016. At one point they also said the message was “not in good taste.”

The FFRF noted:

“The lawsuit challenges certain portions of the regulations governing personalized license plates as unlawful, namely those that allow government officials to deny plates based on vague notions of ‘good taste’ as well as those barring personalized plates barring from communicating religious, anti-religious or political messages.”

Hart added:

“I simply want the same opportunity to select a personal message for my license plate just as any driver. There is nothing ‘obscene or vulgar’ about my view that religious beliefs are subject to individual interpretation.”

The judge presiding over the lawsuit determined that Kentucky DMV officials “went too far” in rejecting Hart’s license plate request and concluded that personalized license plates aren’t just for UK (University of Kentucky) fans.”

Now it was time to decide how much money the state owed Hart for all the trouble.

The lawsuit entailed copious documentation regarding the work that was needed and the “complex constitutional issues that were involved. As a result, the FFRF noted, “the Court cannot agree with Defendants that the hourly rate or time spent by Plaintiff’s counsel in this matter was excessive.”

That’s how the judge arrived at the $150, 715 in attorney fees and $491. 24 in litigation costs.

And the FFRF is celebrating the victory.

“Groups such as ours have to put in a lot of work to ensure the constitutional rights or ordinary folks,” said FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We truly appreciate that the court recognizes this.”

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Megan Hamilton

Megan Hamilton has traveled extensively throughout the Southern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America. A lifelong atheist, these travels have informed her political views. She currently lives in a remote location with a large herd of cats and four dogs.