Li­cense for ex­pres­sion?

Los Angeles Times - - SUNDAY OPINION -

Re “Free speech on li­cense plates,” Ed­i­to­rial, June19

As your ed­i­to­rial notes, find­ing the Con­fed­er­ate flag re­pug­nant is easy, but ar­tic­u­lat­ing a legally co­her­ent way to keep it off spe­cialty li­cense plates is another mat­ter.

Texas re­jected the spe­cialty-plate ap­pli­ca­tion fromthe Sons of Con­fed­er­ate Vet­er­ans be­cause the Con­fed­er­ate flag of­fends “a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the public.” But Texas, like sev­eral other Bi­ble­belt states, al­lows the Chris­tian cross and men­tion of “God” on its spe­cialty plates.

What will hap­pen when the Amer­i­can Hu­man­ist Assn. ap­plies for plates bear­ing its motto, “Good With­out a God”? Or when Wic­cans want plates dis­play­ing their faith’s pen­ta­cle? No doubt many Chris­tian Tex­ans will be of­fended by sym­bols of athe­is­tic or poly­the­is­tic belief sys­tems. But shouldn’t non­be­liev­ers be en­ti­tled to their own plates as a mat­ter of re­li­gious free­dom?

As Jus­tice Oliver Wen­dell Holmes Jr. ob­served, hard cases make bad law. With the high court’s du­bi­ous li­cense plate de­ci­sion, look for end­less freespeech lit­i­ga­tion un­til states fi­nally stop of­fer­ing mo­bile bill­boards.

Ed­ward Al­ston

Santa Maria

Your in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Con­fed­er­ate flag is much too be­nign formy tastes.

Li­cense plates are pro­duced by the gov­ern­ment to keep track of ve­hi­cles. Texas has de­cided to al­low cer­tain forms of ex­pres­sion on li­cense plates for the pur­pose of rais­ing rev­enue.

Li­cense plates were not de­signed for free ex­pres­sion, so Texas could end all such forms of ex­pres­sion to­mor­row and no one could claim that this is a vi­o­la­tion of free speech. Public parks and other public gath­er­ing places, on the other hand, must al­low free ex­pres­sion.

Thus, this cru­cial dis­tinc­tion is suf­fi­cient for the courts to use in or­der to avoid what could be a very oner­ous re­sult.

If the Texas de­ci­sion were to be re­versed, what would stop the next group from ask­ing that a swastika be part of its li­cense plates? Be­sides, if a group wishes to ad­ver­tise its af­fil­i­a­tion to a par­tic­u­lar cause, there are bumper stick­ers for that pur­pose.

Free speech is not an ab­so­lute right. There are nu­mer­ous ex­cep­tions and re­stric­tions on ex­press­ing one­self. Steve Co­dron

West Hills

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