NOW argues against 'Choose Life' in suit to recall license plates

TALLAHASEE, Fla. (BP)--The National Organization for Women, along with a Palm Beach synagogue and three other plaintiffs, argued before a Florida Circuit Court March 1 that the state's Choose Life license plates should be recalled because the message violates the First Amendment religion clauses.

The plaintiffs also contended the state should not promote one side in abortion politics.

The specialty tags -- with a crayon drawing of a boy and girl and the message "Choose Life" on a bright yellow background -- were approved by the Florida legislature in 1999 and went on sale last August. In only six months on the market, Choose Life plates are now more popular than over half of the other 50 specialty tags sold. Other optional license plates promote such causes as professional sport teams, universities, environmental and other social causes.

Funds raised through the sale of the Choose Life tags go to nonprofit agencies that counsel and provide care for pregnant women who are committed to placing their children for adoption. So far, about $300,000 has been generated by the sale of the plates that cost $20 per year more than standard license plates.

Former state Rep. Barry Silver, a Boca Raton lawyer who is representing NOW, contended that by employing a phrase from the Bible (Deut. 30:19) the state of Florida has violated the "separation of church and state." Silver put a rabbi and a retired Presbyterian minister on the witness stand to testify that the phrase "choose life" urges people to choose God's way in their lives, the Associated Press reported.

Jim Dean, a lawyer representing the Florida Department of Highway Safety, contended that the state wasn't promoting the idea of "Choose Life," noting that other specialty plates in Florida may contain messages that some people might regard as objectionable.

Among such mottos available on Florida tags are "Save the Manatee," "Conserve Wildlife" and "Florida Arts."

"The message is not the message of the state, it's the message of an individual motorist," Dean said. "No one is required to have 'Choose Life' on their car."

Leon County Circuit Judge Nikki Ann Clark did not rule on the recall motion or indicate when her ruling could be expected.

James A. Smith Sr., executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, in an editorial after the hearing, described the NOW lawsuit as "baseless," saying it "merely demonstrates the true agenda of the pro-choice lobby -- actually, the pro-abortion lobby. They don't believe in choice. Abortion advocates believe that their cause is righteous and that those who oppose it must be silenced."

The Choose Life tags, Smith wrote, "present an opportunity for Florida Baptists and other pro-life citizens to take tangible action to help women in crisis pregnancies, while also contending for the sanctity of human life. ... 'Choose Life'? IM4IT!"


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