License Plate with Cross Likely Will Not Move Forward

By: Jessica Gresko
By: Jessica Gresko

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A license plate that would have become the first in the nation to prominently feature a religious symbol is unlikely to be on the road any time soon after state lawmakers did not include it in a bill Tuesday.

The plate, which included an image of a Christian cross, stained-glass window and the words "I Believe," is not in legislation passed late Tuesday that's now headed to the governor.

Opponents of the plate said approving it would result in a court challenge because it violated the separation of church and state and gave the appearance the state was endorsing a particular religious preference.

Supporters countered that not approving it could also result in a lawsuit.

Republican Sen. Ronda Storms, a plate proponent, said the state had created a "public forum" by allowing a variety of license plate designs with different messages. Restricting speech in that forum was also unconstitutional, Storms said.

One vocal opponent of the plate, Democratic Leader Dan Gelber, said he did not think the plate was likely to pass in the remaining days of the session after lawmakers passed the bill without the "I Believe" plate.

It could still be amended onto another bill, but the prospects of that were increasingly unlikely with few bills available on the Legislature's calendar to which it could be added.

The South Carolina legislature is also considering the same license plate, however, and it won key approval in the state Senate there Tuesday.

A handful of other states have license plates with religious symbols including crosses, but they are part of college logos. Florida itself has over 100 different designs.

The proposed "I Believe" plate would have cost drivers an extra $25 annual fee and would have given that money to the Orlando-based nonprofit Faith in Teaching Inc., which supports faith-based school activities.

The group's president, Carla Mallen, wrote in an e-mail that the group would give money to programs of a variety of faiths.


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