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'GAYPWR' License Plate OK in Ga., but Not H8SPCH

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on June 07, 2013 12:52 PM

Vanity license plates share various sentiments, and in Georgia, "GAYPWR" is now one of them.

The state settled on Wednesday with James Cyrus Gilbert of Atlanta, who sued Georgia for previously not approving his requests for a "GAYGUY," "4GAYLIB," or "GAYPWR" license plate, reports Reuters.

This settlement was part of a larger move by Georgia to tighten down on free speech action above the tailpipe.

Georgia's Bad Tag List

Gilbert had initially requested "GAYGUY" for his license plate, which under the old Georgia banned-tag list was a no-go.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia Department of Revenue continues to compile a list of over 10,000 "bad tags," including:

  • "0NTARI0"
  • "YESGOD"
  • "SUBWAY"
  • "SUCKA**"

After being sued and settling with Gilbert, Georgia has decided to take a different tack with their license plates. The state will now ban any license plate with profanity, sexual reference, criminal reference, and the word hate, reports Reuters.

Right to 'HATE' on a Plate?

Gilbert's initial lawsuit in January 2013 alleged that the state was denying license plates in an "arbitrary fashion" which violated his 1st Amendment rights to free speech, reports the AJC.

A government statute barring license plates with profanity or even the word "hate" would be a content-based regulation on speech in a public forum, he argued.

Banning profanity and sexual references might fly if the Georgia regulation is found to only ban references which are obscene, which even the U.S. Supreme Court has had trouble with.

Can Georgia Ban Certain Hate Speech?

Georgia's new emergency regulation will expire in 120 days, but it seeks to bar any license plates that make disparaging comments about religion, race, or gender, according to Reuters.

Hate speech laws have not been routinely upheld, and the courts have even struck down legislation which effectively punished cross-burning.

Even the notorious Westboro Baptist Church has been successful in continuing to spout hateful slurs at military funerals regarding the government and gays; courts have upheld their rights to do so.

It may be legally weird, but Westboro's free speech rights are the same ones that made Gilbert's "GAYPWR" license plate a reality.

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