Organizations seeking special plates are required to prove, before production begins, that there is sufficient interest in the tag by putting down a $4,000 deposit or providing 400 pre-paid orders. Numerous organizations have gone through this process, including the South Carolina Chiropractic Association, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Free Masons and the Secular Humanists of the Low Country.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) says these special plates may contain the name of the sponsoring organization and its logo but may not contain other words, phrases or slogans.
In other cases, some organizations have approached the legislature to approve a special license plate. These plates are free from some DMV regulations and can feature an icon, a slogan or both. The requesting organization typically designs these plates and must submit a marketing plan before the tags enter production. The groups must still provide a $4,000 deposit or 400 pre-paid orders.
The "I Believe" plate is different. No group requested it. And, although the legislature has approved plates bearing the national motto "In God We Trust" as well as the phrase, "God Bless America," the "I Believe" plate marks the first time that the legislature has ever passed legislation approving a license plate that promotes a particular faith. State officials chose the design for the plate and presumably will be responsible for marketing it.
Eager to see the plate produced as soon as possible, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer has said he is willing to pay the $4,000 deposit, although he plans to be reimbursed by the state later. And Gov. Mark Sanford has ordered that the DMV charge no more than the cost of production for the plate, which has been estimated to be four to six dollars. Thus, the "I Believe" plate will be significantly cheaper than almost every other specialty license plate.
"The state has clearly given preferential treatment to Christianity with this license plate," said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "I can't think of a more flagrant violation of the First Amendment's promise of equal treatment for all faiths."
What I don't get about this is why the conservatives have apparently abandoned their devotion to the "Free Market" in this case. If you want to declare your religious beliefs on the bumper of your car, there are already plenty of private-sector ways to do it-- bumper stickers, window decals, even those little frames that go AROUND your license plate. All produced by Hardworking Capitalists who might experience a loss of sales when the State of South Carolina, um, socializes their industry!