A Kentucky man's three-year legal battle ended Wednesday when a federal court ruled his request for a personalized license plate qualifies as private speech protected by the First Amendment, the Courier Journal reported.
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Ben Hart attempted to obtain a vanity plate reading "IM GOD" in 2016, but the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet denied the request for violating anti-discrimination guidelines, The Associated Press reported.
The Courier Journal, citing court documents, reported the transportation cabinet has previously approved such personalized plates as "GODLVS," "TRYGOD," "1GOD" and "NOGOD".
In its ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Court of Kentucky wrote: "The Commonwealth [of Kentucky] went too far…To allow such plates as 'IM4GOD' and 'LUVGOD' but reject 'IM GOD' belies viewpoint neutrality…Regardless, the court concludes that in this case, [the statute governing such license plates] is an unreasonable and therefore impermissible restriction on Mr. Hart's First Amendment rights."
In a statement provided to the Courier Journal, Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said the court's ruling affirmed Hart's argument that the denial of his request was "pure discrimination."
“We are delighted that the court realized the bias the state of Kentucky was displaying toward nonbelievers,” Gaylor told the newspaper.
Both the foundation and Kentucky's American Civil Liberties Union backed Hart's legal battle, The AP reported. The organizations issued a joint statement with Hart following the ruling.
"I'm thankful to finally have the same opportunity to select a personal message for my license plate just as any other driver," Hart said in the statement. "There is nothing inappropriate about my view that religious beliefs are subject to individual interpretation."