New York

 
Release Date:  August 4, 2004
ADF Media Relations
480-444-0020


ADF to New York DMV:  “No more discrimination”

DMV officials repeatedly reject pro-adoption group’s
license plate design while approving
the designs of other organizations


ALBANY—The Alliance Defense Fund filed a federal civil rights lawsuit today against New York state officials for rejecting a specialty license plate design submitted by The Children First Foundation that was considered “too political and controversial.

“This is a clear-cut case of unlawful discrimination,” said Michael Johnson, an ADF attorney based in Shreveport, Louisiana.  “New York Department of Motor Vehicles officials and their superiors have apparently decided that it’s just fine to deny The Children First Foundation’s applications simply because they don’t like the organization’s message.  We intend to demonstrate that it’s not just fine with the Constitution.”

ADF-allied attorney Brian Raum of the law firm Gucciardo & Raum, P.C., filed the lawsuit, The Children First Foundation and Dr. Elizabeth Rex v. Raymond P. Martinez, et al., in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York.

Though The Children First Foundation is a non-partisan, charitable organization that supports adoption and safe havens but does not promote a specific religion or anti-religious belief, the New York DMV rejected the foundation’s design of a crayon drawing of a yellow sun behind the faces of two smiling children, claiming a significant segment of the population would consider the design “patently offensive” because it also included the words “Choose Life.”

The Children First Foundation revised its design by adding the organization’s web site address, fund-adoption.org, to better reflect its purpose.  The design was rejected again on the same grounds.  Monday, Johnson received a letter from the DMV stating that they have voluntarily, temporarily suspended their custom plate program until further notice.

“The state was clearly deciding to insert its own political correctness into the approval process instead of respecting the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” Johnson said.  “Now they want to kill the whole program, but that action does not resolve the wrong done to our client, compensate them for the substantial amount of revenue they would have received from the sales of the plates, or somehow make the unconstitutional licensing scheme legitimate.”

According to the complaint, New York officials have been enforcing the rules however they see fit because “there are no objective standards or written criteria to govern the DMV’s decision regarding whether an eligible organization’s plate design is approved.”

“DMV officials have approved custom plates for many diverse organizations, from labor unions such as the AFL-CIO to religious groups such as the Knights of Columbus.  Our client was unfairly singled out simply because its particular message is not popular with those officials.  That’s a wrong that has yet to be righted,” Johnson said.

ADF is America’s largest legal alliance defending religious liberty through strategy, training, funding, and litigation