Mandatory ‘In God We Trust’ license plates deemed unconstitutional, expensive

Attorney General Herbert Slatery says a law requiring all Tennessee vehicle license plates to bear the slogan “In God We Trust” would be “constitutionally suspect,” but making such plates available as an option – as several states already do – would be OK.

As filed, HB26 by Sen. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, and Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, declares that “all registration plates issued or renewed” starting July 1 must include the phrase, which is also a national motto.

The legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee had earlier said in a “fiscal note” that the mandate would cost the Department of Safety about $19.6 million. As filed, the bill says all plates must bear the phrase once current inventory is used, making no provision for issuing an annual decal – as opposed to a new plate – as is now the case.  The cost would be about $3.31 per plate, says the fiscal note.

Under the attorney general opinion reasoning, it appears both the high fiscal note and the constitutional questions would be eliminated by making “In God We Trust” available to those getting a license plate and paying the fees, but not requiring it.

Such an amendment may be expected when the bill comes up in committee – and the legislative website says it’s on notice in both the Senate Transportation Committee and the House Transportation Subcommittee on Wednesday.

The full nine-page AG opinion is HERE. (A previous post, HERE)

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