Sen. Juan Mendez is waging a war against “In God We Trust” license plates because an “extremist hate group” will be profiting from their sales.
The Arizona Democrat is attempting to keep the Arizona Department of Transportation from selling the specialty license plates with the national motto in an effort to prevent the funds from benefiting the law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom, AZ Central reported.
“We were appalled by it,” Tory Roberg, of the Secular Coalition for Arizona – which directed Mendez to investigate where the funds were going – said. “People really need to know where their money is going.”
Non-profit organizations, like ADF and the University of Arizona, are among many others in the state which are allowed to offer specialty plates which provide $17 of the $25 purchase price to particular causes. The ADOT website only describes the “In God We Trust” plates as promoting the national motto, “1st amendment rights and the heritage of this state and nation.”
About 60 different specialty plates are currently being offered in the state with none of the other groups presenting them being under fire for expressing a viewpoint as ADF has. Mendez introduced two bills related to the plates, one requiring that the ADOT more fully disclose where the money from specialty plates sales goes and another removing the ADF plate completely.
“Hopefully in the future we can put in place some commonsense guidelines that would bar hate groups from earning money through Arizona license plates,” Mendez said in a press release. “State dollars should not be funding an organization that works to strip residents of our state of their human rights and human dignity. It’s appalling that we’ve already sent over a million dollars to this extremist hate group.”
The left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center branded ADF as a “hate group” in 2016 because of its alleged “demonization of LGBT people” and for its “support of criminalization of gay sex in the U.S. and abroad.”
ADF Senior Vice President of U.S. legal division, Kristen Waggoner, slammed the move by Mendez.
“It’s disappointing to see elected officials become uncritical pawns in these ugly propaganda campaigns,” Waggoner said in a statement. “The SPLC did good work years ago, but they’ve been widely discredited for decades by investigative journalists, charity watchdogs, and commentators as activist, partisan, and unreliable.”
“Rather than shutting down speech, they should add to the conversation with their own perspective,” she added. “That’s how free speech works in this country.”
The Scottsdale-based religious freedom law firm has argued and won a few religious liberty cases at the US Supreme Court. ADF’s senior counsel and vice president of U.S. Advocacy, Jeremy Tedesco, defended the group’s mission which is “to keep the doors open for the Gospel by advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.”
“It’s disappointing to see elected officials become uncritical pawns in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s ugly propaganda campaigns,” Tedesco said in a statement.
“Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for the freedom of all Americans to peacefully live in accordance with their beliefs, including those with no belief,” he added. “We represent people from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds.”
Secular Coalition for Arizona, which has planned a petition and billboard campaign against the “In God We Trust” plates, has reached out to like-minded churches and groups, according to AZ Central.
“What do people not understand about the inappropriateness of this kind of fundamentalist-inspired, state-sanctioned discrimination?” David Felten, a pastor at the United Methodist Church, The Fountains, said in a press release from the coalition.
An ADF blog post warned that silencing speech is a “slippery slope” noting that “if the government can bar certain organizations from participating in this program because some special interests don’t approve of the viewpoint, where does it stop?”
“No one is required to purchase a specialty license plate, and no tax dollars go to the organizations that have created the specialty plates,” the post, by Sarah Kramer, argued. “Arizona has every right to offer this opportunity, just as the Secular Coalition for Arizona has every right to create its own license plate featuring its own viewpoint, if it so chooses. And ADF would fully support its right to do so.”
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