Free speech issues comes in a variety of shapes and sizes — including that of a car's license plate.
A federal judge in North Carolina ruled this week that it is unconstitutional for that state to issue license plates carrying a pro-life message.
There will, no doubt, be considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth over what might seem to some people to be an unjustifiable exercise of judicial power. Before joining that chorus, be advised that the judge was correct.
The judge ruled that the decision by North Carolina's elected officials constituted a classic case of viewpoint discrimination.
Say what? Viewpoint discrimination comes into play when the government picks and chooses the expressions of opinion that it allows, essentially supporting one perspective while suppressing a contrary viewpoint.
In this case, the legislature approved issuing license plates that read "Choose Life" while rejecting the issuance of license plates that read "Respect Choice."
You can't have one without the other if it is a message authorized by the government.
Why? Because government officials, under our U.S. Constitution, cannot be trusted to choose which messages are appropriate and which are not. To allow them to do so is an invitation to the kind of tyranny the Founding Fathers wanted to prevent.
If one speaks, all must be allowed to speak. That's the essence of the meaning of the First Amendment.
An analogy would be that of school officials allowing a group of student atheists to use an empty classroom for their monthly meeting while denying the same access to a Christian student organization. Can't do it. If school facilities — or state license plates — are open to one viewpoint, they must be open to a contrary viewpoint.
North Carolina legislators who want their state to be able to issue license plates carrying a pro-life, anti-abortion message can do so by allowing a similar pro-choice, pro-abortion message. Let the individual citizens decide what message, if any, they want to have on their license plates.
The legislation at issue here never actually went into effect. Passed in 2011, the courts issued a temporary injunction to block its implementation because of the legal issues that were raised. Now the injunction will be permanent.
It's not that the injunction prevented much from happening. Court records reveal only 300 people applied for the "Choose Life" license plates. In addition to yearly registration fees, the license plates cost $25 annually, $15 of which was passed on to crisis pregnancy centers.
It's potentially a good way of raising money for worthy causes — as long as both sides of the causes are represented.