Monday, July 23, 2007

Fair and Balanced?

While at the DMV today, I noticed a sign on the wall which showed two different license plates, with the words, "Which one do you want? They cost the same!" The sign showed both the standard state plate, plus another plate that proclaimed, "In God We Trust".

My state, like all US states, offers several different license plate designs in addition to the standard state plate. But these specialty plates usually cost quite a bit more than the standard plate. Also, none of the other specialty plates available were shown anywhere in plain sight. One apparently must ask to see the designs, unlike with the God plate, which this sign called special attention to.

Irritated at this apparent violation of the separation of church and state, I went to the DMV website when I got home to look at all the specialty plates offered. To my surprise, there was an offering for secular humanists, with the words "In Reason We Trust":

At first glance, it appears that the state has been fair to offer plates for both religious people and for humanists. But South Carolina manages to subvert the idea of fairness, while at the same time technically upholding it.

By offering both plates, they are being fair. But there are several factors that clearly indicate that the state favors the God plate over the humanist plate.

The first is cost. The God plate costs the same as the standard plate, while the humanist plate costs several dollars more.

The second is availability. The God plate is available to everyone, but the humanist plate is only available to those who are members of an organization, "Secular Humanists of the Low Country".

The third is visibility. The God plate is shown on a poster that is clearly visible to all visitors to the DMV, which calls attention to its low cost. The humanist plate is on an unseen sheet of paper or in a catalogue, which a person must request to see. The average person visiting the DMV will have no idea that a humanist plate is even available.

Is this fair or balanced?

I think not.

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