FORT WAYNE, IND. â€” When Mark Studler was renewing his specialty license plate recently, which touts his support of environmental issues, he expected to pay the annual premium of $40 to the state.
After all, he wanted to express his love of the great outdoors every time he hit the highways â€” and liked that $25 of the fee was donated to the Indiana Heritage Trust, a state conservation group.
But he objected to a new license plate that he felt also qualified as a specialty plate â€” one with the motto “In God We Trust” â€” but didn’t require a premium. Not even the $15 extra fee that usually goes to the state for administrative costs.
“I don’t have any problem with people expressing their religious beliefs, whether it’s on a bumper sticker or their license plate,” said Studler, 49, a construction worker. “But folks should be treated in the same way â€” and charged the same fees by the state â€” as Hoosiers who prefer that their custom tags promote education or the environment.”
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit, on behalf of Studler, in state court against the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and Commissioner Ronald L. Stiver. The complaint challenges a law that lets motorists get the “In God We Trust” design without paying the $15 administrative fee.
The state says the new “In God We Trust” plate is not a specialty plate â€” like dozens of others it offers â€” but rather a second “standard” plate, like the one that features a pastoral scene, and is thus not subject to special fees.
State officials say the plate, introduced in January, has been a hit, chosen by more than 540,000 motorists. That means that had the state charged the $15 fee, it would have an additional $8 million in its coffers.