February 19th, 2020 – No, that’s not Kanye you see driving around Kentucky with a license plate that reads “IM GOD;” it’s an 80-year-old atheist who just scored a big payday. A judge directed the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to pay Bennie Hart over $150,000 after initially denying his request for the custom deity declaration.
Hart, who had the same license plate for a decade while living in Ohio, filed for a new one when he moved to Kentucky in 2016. Over the next three years, the Cabinet and Hart battled it out in court with Kentucky officials saying the request was denied because it was “not in good taste and would create the potential of distraction to other drivers and possibly confrontations,” according to official court documents.
Hart responded by saying that the denial was a a violation of his First Amendment rights and hired the the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU of Kentucky to represent him in the lawsuit.
Last November, Hart won his case allowing him to receive the “IM GOD” license plate and a statement calling out the hypocrisy of the Cabinet in choosing what religious views are allowed on personal property.
“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,” Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove said in the order.
“Under the Transportation Cabinet’s logic, the Commonwealth is not only contradicting itself, but spewing nonsense,” he went on to write. “If the Court finds that vanity plates are government speech, then the Court would also be finding that Kentucky has officially endorsed the words ‘UDDER,’ ‘BOOGR,’ ‘JUICY,’ ‘W8LOSS’ and ‘FATA55.'”
While Hart has been using the license plate for a few months, a new gift (not in the spiritual category, obviously) was awarded to him. Last week, Judge Van Tatenhove ordered the Cabinet to pay him $150,715.50 in attorneys’ fees, as well as $491.24 in litigation costs.
“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 back in November. “There is nothing inappropriate about my view that religious beliefs are subject to individual interpretation.”
Do you believe the denial of the ‘IM GOD’ license plate was a violation of Bennie Hart’s First Amendment rights? Does the payday rectify the situation?