An interesting story
coming out of
The case involves a teenager in
Now, when a state censors any expressive conduct based solely on its content, which appears to be the case here, a very tough standard of constitutional scrutiny is ordinarily triggered. These types of restrictions on speech (actually restricting what people can say, as opposed to the time, place, or manner in which they say it) are very difficult for states to justify. On the other hand, the state could easily argue that they are simply restricting the time, place, and manner in which the person speaks, and not restricting their message. After all, the state could definitely not stop this person from putting a bumper sticker on his car containing the exact same message.
However, when a state creates a new forum for expression
(such as allowing people to customize their license plates), they often open up
a big can of worms for themselves. After all, they have an interest in not
giving the impression that they are endorsing a viewpoint which some might find
offensive (and let’s be honest, someone can take offense with any opinion, no matter how benign), and
not placing undue restrictions on speech. There are no easy answers to this
issue, to be sure. It’s possible that if providing vanity plates requires
states to restrict any form of speech, they simply shouldn’t provide them.
After all, the government is under no constitutional obligation to provide you
with a platform for your speech, so there would be no constitutional problem
with states ceasing to issue vanity plates. This would solve the problem of
vanity plates serving as a platform for speech which state’s don’t approve of,
and save them the effort of determining what “offensive” license plates they
have to allow, and which ones they don’t.
Also interesting is the state’s apparent rationale that simply stating one’s sexual orientation has “sexual connotations.” This is technically true, but a person stating that they’re gay has no more sexual connotations than a person saying that they’re straight. Likewise, introducing someone as a husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, life partner, etc. implies a sexual relationship, and therefore has “sexual connotations,” though it’s unlikely that many people would be offended by license plates addressing those subjects.
It’s also strange that the state concluded that a simple
statement of one’s own homosexuality would necessarily be offensive to the
general public. If that’s really the case, I think it’s a sad commentary on the
government or population of
By: Rusty Shackleford
By: Rusty Shackleford