By Michael Winter USA Today Tue Dec 11, 2012 9:47 AM
North Carolina cannot issue anti-abortion “Choose Life” license plates without offering drivers plates with other viewpoints, a federal has judged ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge James Fox ruled Friday that the “Choose Life” tag violated the First Amendment, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. In issuing a permanent injunction, he called it “viewpoint discrimination” because the state did not offer a plate supporting reproductive choice.
The Republican-controlled Legislature authorized the plate in June 2011, rejecting six efforts to include additional plates that declared “Respect Choice,” or “Trust Women. Respect Choice.” Gov. Bev Purdue, a Democrat, signed the measure that November.
The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union then sued on behalf of four auto owners, and Fox issued a temporary injunction blocking the sale of “Choose Life,” a national organization lobbying to get the plate in all 50 states.
The state attorney general has not decided whether he will appeal, the Associated Press reported Monday.
“This is a great victory for the free speech rights of all North Carolinians, regardless of their point of view on reproductive freedom,” Chris Brook, legal director of the state ACLU, said in a statement. “The government cannot create an avenue of expression for one side of a contentious political issue while denying an equal opportunity to citizens with the opposite view.”
Brook added, “We would have made the exact same argument if the situation was reversed, and the state planned on issuing a pro-choice plate while not offering one expressing the opposite point of view.”
According to Choose Life, its plate is available in 27 states besides North Carolina. The North Carolina site has not yet been updated to reflect the injunction.
Fox’s ruling points out that “funds to be collected from the ‘Choose Life’ plate are expressly prohibited from ‘be1//ing3// distributed to any agency, organization, business , or other entity that provides, promotes, counsels, or refers to abortion.’”
The Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship would have received $15 of the $25 fee for the special plate.
“North Carolina is the only state in the southeast that refuses to let its citizens purchase the ‘Choose Life’ license plate,” Bobbie Meyer, state director of the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, told LifeNews on Monday. She said the plates have raised more than $12 million for sponsors in the states where they are sold, “thereby helping mothers and their families.”
North Carolina offers almost 150 special tags for a variety of causes, interests, organizations, military veterans or colleges. Among them: the Buddy Pelletier Surfing Foundation, Sons of Confederate Veterans, 27 different NASCAR drivers, animal lovers, duck hunters, God, Masons, Shriners, Lions, shag dancers, square dancers, hikers, bicyclists, police, firefighters, forests, tobacco -- and watermelons.