Plate Debate

Political motorists

"Since when has protecting, honoring, and celebrating a freedom that we have become a controversial statement?" asks Florida state Rep. Ken Littlefield, a Republican.

He's introduced a bill to add a license plate for gun lovers to the roster of more than 50 specialty tags offered by the Sunshine State. His design, picturing an armed minuteman and the slogan "Protect the Second Amendment," would raise funds for school gun-safety programs. Or as Littlefield puts it, classes that would "instill again in our children the value and the sanctity of human life" -- seemingly a tall order for a humble license plate program.

Rhetoric aside, the plate's message is controversial, and anti-gun rights activists have complained it would imply the state had endorsed one side of a political issue. But it wouldn't be the first or most contentious message to grace Florida tags.

Between August 2000 and 2001, 25,126 Floridians have shelled out $20 apiece for a "Choose Life" plate, the proceeds of which go to pro-adoption family planning clinics that don't offer abortions. That plate has so far survived on ongoing First Amendment challenge brought to the courts by the National Organization for Women, which has argued that it blurs the church-state boundary since "choose life" comes from a Bible verse in Deuteronomy. (That same argument successfully shot down a similar plate program in Lousisiana.)

Specialty plates, whose numbers are ballooning in most states, promise to keep courts busy for years. But hardly anyone has fussed about a more practical concern: Some of the more elaborate plate designs make it difficult to read the tag numbers.

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