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'Choose Life' license plates ruled unconstitutional in North Carolina
December 11th, 2012
01:13 AM ET

'Choose Life' license plates ruled unconstitutional in North Carolina

By Joe Sutton, CNN

(CNN) - A federal judge ruled that North Carolina's new "Choose Life" license plates are unconstitutional because the state does not offer a pro-choice alternative.

"The State's offering a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice alternative constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment," U.S. District Court Judge James Fox wrote in the ruling Friday.

The ruling was praised by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed a lawsuit in 2011 to stop the specialty plates.

"This is a great victory for the free speech rights of all North Carolinians, regardless of their point of view on reproductive freedom," said Chris Brook of the ACLU. "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."

Republican state Rep. Mitch Gillespie, who sponsored the bill for the "Choose Life" plates, said he would push for an appeal of the judge's decision, CNN affiliate WRAL reported.

The bill for the license plates passed in 2011, and the legislation also mandated that money raised from the sale of the specialty plates would go to a nonprofit that supports crisis pregnancy centers, WRAL reported.

During the fight to get the bill passed, North Carolina lawmakers voted down amendments that would have created pro-choice alternatives such as "Trust Women. Respect Choice," the affiliate reported.

The "Choose Life" plates are available in 29 states, according to Choose Life Inc., a nonprofit that helps states that want to sell these specialty plates.

- A. Hawkins

Filed under: Abortion • Courts • North Carolina

soundoff (3,213 Responses)
  1. mama k

    Thank you federal judge. Score: James Madison 1; Fundamentalist Right: 0

    James Madison, POTUS #4, and the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution & the Bill of Rights (which would become several Amendments including the 1st Amendment):

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

    (A Memorial and Remonstrance . . addressed to the Virginia General Assembly in 1785.)

    Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Paine, Mason & Madison all witnessed the violent persecution between Christian sects in their home states around the time the government was being established. It infuriated them. So it is of no surprise that they needed a secular government and they knew the only way to enforce freedom of religion was to keep religion out of the government as much as possible.

    Listen to James Madison speak about the need for the need to keep religion out of government (Jefferson wasn't the only one to explicitly speak of the separation of church and state):

    Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.

    The Civil Govt, tho' bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success, Whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State.

    (from letters to Edward Livingston and Robert Walsh)

    Madison as president vetoed two bills that he believed would violate the separation of church and state. He also came to oppose the long-established practice of employing chaplains at public expense in the House of Representatives and Senate on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state and the principles of religious freedom. (Library of Congress – James Madison Papers – Detached memorandum, ca. 1823.)

    Our most recent Constitutional Amendment, number 27, adopted in 1992, which prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of the Congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office for Representatives, was first introduced by James Madison in 1789.

    December 11, 2012 at 2:06 am |
    • Rey

      Separation of Church and State is not the basis of the abortion argument.

      The fundamental question is this: Is a fetus alive?
      If so, then abortion is ethically and morally the worst legally sanctioned crime since slavery.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:20 am |
    • mama k

      The issue ruled on here was not about abortion. It was about the constitutionality of displaying government-issued plates with that type of message.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:30 am |
    • tffl

      Rey – and the judgment on that is purely based on religion, since "alive" isn't a meaningful description of a fetus.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:50 am |
    • redzoa

      @Rey – "The fundamental question is this: Is a fetus alive?
      If so, then abortion is ethically and morally the worst legally sanctioned crime since slavery."

      Of course a fetus is alive and of course it's "human." But the inquiry doesn't stop there, because even if we grant "full personhood" rights to a fetus, there are still two persons involved. There is no legal or moral obligation to use one's body to directly sustain the life of another just as there is no legal or moral obligation to donate organs, tissue, etc., to sustain the life of another.

      One should remember that to grant the government the power to force pregnancy is to grant the government an extreme right over personal reproductive autonomy. This is a short step from granting the power to prohibit pregnancy. If this sounds ridiculous, then you should read up on our Nation's historical eugenics campaigns.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:51 am |
    • JC

      @Rey: No, the question isn't whether a fetus is alive. Think about it. Your cactus plant is alive, the neighbor's cat is alive, the fly on the wall is alive. The question is whether a fetus is a human being, and if so, whether we have the right to force one human being to use her body (regardless of the physical, emotional, financial consequences) to enable another human being to live. If what you claim is correct, then I also have the right to demand that you donate your body parts to save the lives of others. So when are you showing up? I need your kidney, your bone marrow, your blood. And your analogy to slavery is ridiculous, primarily because it is the woman you want to enslave, by forcing her, against her will, to use her body to benefit another. You've got it wrong. In every way.

      December 12, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  2. whitespideralex

    nc should really be proud of the nutheads they elected who keep wasting time and money on this bullshxt while the entire nation is struggling on fiscal cliff crisis. can't they just find something more meaningful to do?

    December 11, 2012 at 2:04 am |
  3. toydrum

    "Republican state Rep. Mitch Gillespie, who sponsored the bill for the "Choose Life" plates, said he would push for an appeal of the judge's decision, CNN affiliate WRAL reported."

    I really hope the appeal will be funded by private donations. All of the states are struggling with finances and there is no compelling state interest in defending this specific vanity plate. If you want your car to proclaim either point of view, put it on a bumper sticker, not an official state license plate.

    December 11, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • Shak

      Of course the GOP wants government out of lives and activist judges until a judge rules against them, then they are all for activist judges. Typical.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:09 am |
  4. punkert

    The day we finally do away with this stupid and nonsensical idea of God and religion is when we will finally have peace. Otherwise, stupid people deluded by their wild imaginations will continue to hold this country hostage to their made up beliefs.

    December 11, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • Mark

      When you die you will realize just how stupid you are. Too late then to get any smarter.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • Observer

      Mark,

      Speaking of getting smarter, please tell us all about talking serpents and unicorns.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Mark, please explain how, when you die and your brain is dead, you can "realize" something. LOL

      December 11, 2012 at 2:11 am |
    • Mark

      Observer
      Mark.........Speaking of getting smarter, please tell us all about talking serpents and unicorns. -------– Observer-You wouldn't understand. You still believe your ancestors slid out of the slime and became..............................you.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:13 am |
    • Mark

      Apple Bush
      Mark, please explain how, when you die and your brain is dead, you can "realize" something. LOL.......................How would it be possible to explain the concept of a soul to someone with such limited intellect and acceptance as yourself?

      December 11, 2012 at 2:15 am |
    • punkert

      Mark, prove me wrong. Kill yourself right now and then tell us both how it is on the other side. I'm sure your Jesus can bring you back to life right?

      December 11, 2012 at 2:15 am |
    • Mark

      punkert
      Mark, prove me wrong. Kill yourself right now and then tell us both how it is on the other side. I'm sure your Jesus can bring you back to life right?....................................I've a better idea. How about I kill you to prove my point? That wouldn't be right, you say? But it is ok to kill unborn babies? What is the difference?

      December 11, 2012 at 2:18 am |
    • Observer

      Mark,

      Pathetic answer.

      Want to try again? Please tell us all about talking serpents and unicorns.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:19 am |
    • sam stone

      mark: explain to us how we can possibly fear retalation ("judgement" to you pious folk) from a being in which we do not believe. this applies whether or not we want to.

      also, blathering on with empty proxy threats just makes you look like a punk

      December 11, 2012 at 3:37 am |
    • Pro choice

      I love how the crazy bible thumpers show up with their scare tactic threats.

      December 11, 2012 at 4:39 am |
  5. Shak

    So have licence plates for both sides problem solved.

    December 11, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • Rickey H

      They tried. NC lawmakers voted the alternative plates down. Because of that refusal, the "Choose Life" plate has been struck down.

      Freedom of expression works both ways, North Carolina.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:11 am |
    • Shak

      Shh don't tell NC that Ricky, they think only pro-life opinions count.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:12 am |
    • Double Wide With A View

      Dear North Carolina.
      Place the word "SWALLOW" on your plate.
      Should make everybody happy.

      December 11, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  6. CM5632

    "Choose Life" is catchy. I guess "Choose a blob of cells with no brain stem over the rights of human beings" wouldn't fit.

    December 11, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • Mark

      You were once a blob of brain cells. Unfortunately, you still are.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • pop

      ever heard of infinticide....???
      seen the picture of that unborn baby holding the surgeons hands...

      don't put a size on life, greatest form of descrimination.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Infanticide has nothing to do with abortion. Jeez.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:13 am |
    • sam stone

      mark: clever comeback

      December 11, 2012 at 3:41 am |
    • Pro choice

      Plus, it's no ones business what a woman chooses to do with her body. Please mind your own business, mark.

      December 11, 2012 at 4:41 am |
  7. Bea

    Ridiculous.

    December 11, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • Apple Bush

      What is ridiculous? I think you forgot to finish writing your post.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:00 am |
  8. Observer

    Why not offer a pro-choice plate and let the money raised be spent on educating Christians that the Bible NEVER discusses abortion?

    December 11, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • pop

      Thy shall not kill

      December 11, 2012 at 1:57 am |
    • BobbaFett

      @Observer

      Really? Is that the best you can do? Man, you just stumped every last theologian with that profound revelation. I guess we're done here!

      December 11, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • Luve77

      Thou shalt no kill is the first commandment. This is in the bible.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • Observer

      pop,

      Nope. The Bible says that if a man causes a woman to have a miscarriage, that the penalty is a FINE (like a traffic ticket?) to be paid to the FATHER.

      The Bible says that if you hurt a PERSON, the penalty is an eye for an eye.

      Read the Bible.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:01 am |
    • Apple Bush

      And pop, as I am sure you know being a God fearin' man, God delights in killing babies and children.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • Doug

      Even better, show them the passages in the Old Testament where God actually demands abortion in cases where the mother's health is compromised. Not only that, but God says that the baby growing in the womb is not alive until more than half has emerged from the birth canal, God does not say that life begins when sperm meets egg.
      Tell me, whose God is right when the God of Jesus is the very same God of Abraham and Moses and this is the word of the very same Lord. Does God have two (or more) sets of rules, one for Jews and an entirely different one for Christians? And if he does, what makes your word of God any more valid than my word of God?

      December 11, 2012 at 2:09 am |
  9. joe

    Did someone actually design that plate, or did a computer puke out random images and colors?

    December 11, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • Apple Bush

      The prisoners at Durham State Prison only have acces to Microsoft Paint.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • pop

      they are called kids....
      not bad with pens ayy?

      December 11, 2012 at 1:58 am |
  10. Glenn

    So make a plate that says Choose Death. Problem solved.

    December 11, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • punkert

      The stupid get stupider

      December 11, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • pop

      yeh, how come everyone seems to forget that the word death is one and the same when talking about abortion..... i just don't get it.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • pop
      December 11, 2012 at 1:57 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Putting the American Flag on a license plate is the same as NOT putting Pro Choice on one. They both mean freedom.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:58 am |
    • Mark

      Sssshhhh. You'll give away the true purpose of the "Pro-Life" movement.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:58 am |
    • punkert

      yes Pop, you obviously don't get it.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • pop

      punkert....
      you were also once a helpless fetus...

      we are all family one way or another, we should help all, without descrimination, a fetus is just a tiny human.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:02 am |
    • tallulah13

      pop: A fetus is a potential human. Had I been aborted, I would not know the difference.

      There are a half million kids in foster care right now. Most of them will not find a permanent home. Many of them will have unwanted children of their own. Some will end up in jail. Some will be abused or even murdered before they are old enough to defend themselves. If you really cared about children, you would be advocating birth control and trying your best to take care of those unwanted children who already exist, rather than try to add to their numbers.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:11 am |
    • Doug

      Pop, how can there be death when the God of Abraham and Moses decrees that the fetus is not alive until more than half has emerged from the birth canal and not before?
      Explain that one!

      December 11, 2012 at 2:12 am |
  11. James

    So, is this federal judge assuming that everyone in the State of N.C. never leaves the state? This is the problem with America where the federal government continues to over-reach their boundaries into State issues.

    December 11, 2012 at 1:52 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Wait, what? People in N.C. are allowed to leave? These ARE scary times.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • MoMO

      state should offer BOTH plate "pro-life"and "pro-choice"

      the state cant discriminate against one group while favoring the other.......they are the government and they have apply equakity

      December 11, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • chimerstry

      You may want to read up on the judicial system. Specifically, you want to read about appeals and appellate courts. The system is working correctly, you just don't understand it. You should have got this lesson sometime during high-school, during either US History, American Studies, or civics.

      December 11, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • North Carolina Resident

      High School is for elitist snobs.

      December 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  12. MoMO

    IF IT WAS A PRIVATE COMPANY THAN IT WONT MATTER........BUT THIS IS THE GOVERNMENT AND THEY HAVE TO OFFER BOTH CHOICES IN ORDER TO BE EQUAL.

    December 11, 2012 at 1:50 am |
    • pop

      why would you want to encourage the death of the innocent unborn...
      you were once small... a fetus, how would you like it if someone ended your life without any way to defend yourself...

      there is nothing wrong with protecting the young...

      can you rightfully say the same for ending the life of the young?

      December 11, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • MoMO

      @pop

      dude.....i dont care about your self-righteousness I ONLY care about EQUALITY from our government.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • pop

      how about equality for the fetus???

      when you really think about it deeply... a fetus is a small tiny human, in capable of protecting itself

      equality.... save me, i'm helpless, please advertise 'pro life'

      whats more important than 'pro choice' is the safety of our young....

      December 11, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • Doug

      Pop, the fetus is not alive and has not been born.
      The fetus has NO rights at all!
      Or are you going to put the mother to death for the premeditated murder of her zygot?
      You've got some real issues you need to resolve before you have the right to tell me what I can or can't do.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:16 am |
    • Shane

      @ Pop

      What if it were me? Well I would have never known and thats the end of it. I'd rather people make informed decisions on whether or not they should bring another child into this world rather than being forced to.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:31 am |
  13. MoMO

    OFFER BOTH LICENSE PLATE......EQUALITY.

    December 11, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • Where are we going?

      No It didnt matter until the judge had to butt in....Any other issue!! Seriously, If I had a racial equality plate, i dont think id see a judge saying when need a plate saying racial hate now do you?

      It wasnt an issue until the left brings it up..How wonderful.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Where are we going?

      Racial equality and pro-choice are both issues that involve freedom. How dumb are you?

      December 11, 2012 at 1:55 am |
  14. ed

    In Oregon, we have Salmon plates – I want a CARP plate! "viewpoint discrimination" – my view is what a bunch of crap.

    December 11, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • MoMO

      APPLES AND ORANGES..........in your case there is no discrimination because people can get a license plate stating that they like other fish different from yours.

      but in this case, the state ONLY ISSUE pro-life plate, which is a discrimination.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:52 am |
    • tallulah13

      Here in Oregon, $15 from the salmon plate fees goes to projects that address road-related impacts to salmon and trout streams. As commercial and sport fishing are major industries in the state, the plates actually benefit the economy as well as the ecology of Oregon. The salmon plates are a non-political way to support our state.

      On the other hand, the anti-abortion plates in North Carolina represent a point of view that ignores the fact that abortion is legal in this country. This sort of political bias has no place in a government issued product, any more than a plate that advocates free abortions for all does. If you have a political statement to make, use a bumper sticker, not a government issued license plate.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:27 am |
  15. aMom

    Insane. Next they will outlaw the word "Christmas". Oh, wait a minute.

    December 11, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • punkert

      ahhh, it's idiots like you that will ensure America will remain stupid

      December 11, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • Jessica

      I disagree anyone that thinks abortion is ok is by far the idiot here. Its sad that people are so twisted they can justify killing babies? How about we kill those who are pro choice... Problem solved!

      December 11, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • tallulah13

      I'm curious Jessica. Do you support affordable and available birth control for everyone? Do you support practical reproductive education for children? Do you support living-wage jobs, and available and affordable health care?

      These are the things that prevent abortions. Not license plates, not ranting about killing babies. The problem with practical solutions is that so many people just aren't willing to support them. I guess it's easier (and cheaper!) just to condemn those who chose abortion than it is to actually make the abortion unneeded.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:37 am |
    • sam stone

      jessica: allowing something to be a legal option is not the same as saying it is okay.

      one is a moral issue, the other a legal one.

      your post is emotional blather.

      December 11, 2012 at 3:55 am |
  16. jese

    No one should judge a choice so tragic. If you do not believe in abortion, don't try to take a womans right to choose, instead offer her help with the child or a home for them both as a christian should. If this is too much trouble for you to endure than stay silent and don't judge the woman...pray..and we promise not to judge you as a christian for not offering more...

    December 11, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • Mark

      It isn't about a choice, it is about infanticide.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • pop

      the words 'choose life' simply states, to choose life, keep the unborn child 'alive'
      a beating heart is a sign of life.

      "choose life' should be encouraged. they will soon start to target the born, within 6 months if the child is unwanted, they will be able to opt to end it's life.

      scary times...

      December 11, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • jesus saves

      I do help young women...try it sometime.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Mark, mind your own business. It is about choice. It is the law.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • joe

      Yet Christians (and other religions) have no problem going to war, killing millions.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • Mark

      Apple Bush....................Mark, mind your own business. It is about choice. It is the law. --------– Being legal is not necessarily moral. Murdering millions of unborn babies IS my business. I fought in two wars for freedom, freedom for all to INCLUDE innocent, unborn babies.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Mark you are incorrect. You fought for the very freedom Roe v Wade provides. You fought for freedom and equality. You have no business telling a man or woman what they can or can't do with an unwanted pregnancy. Mind your own business. If you don't agree with abortion, then don't do it. Who cares what you think?

      December 11, 2012 at 2:09 am |
  17. Matt

    Typical ACLU: cherry-pick which "freedoms" to fight for.

    December 11, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • sam stone

      the advocate for conservative issues as well, matt

      December 11, 2012 at 4:00 am |
  18. Where are we going?

    Something tells me the judge wouldnt have ruled in favor if it was for pro-choice plates, and to have to have pro-life plates also....Just shows how stupid liberal judges have to make sure everything is gone through a leftist filter before everything is ok....

    December 11, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • Mark

      Pro-Choice plates aren't economically viable, no one would buy them.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • Where are we going?

      Yet, leftists have to make sure they have their way just so their narrow minded voices are heard..

      December 11, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • Stevei

      I am from NC, and I for one wish that I could get a pro-choice plate.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • Bill Hannegan

      Mark – I would buy them. Your argument has immediately been proven false.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:15 am |
  19. thegadfly

    Now if the courts would please consider those plates that state "In God We Trust", as well as vanity plates with fundamentalist or evangelical religious overtones. They should be just as forbidden as vanity plates with vulgarities. Then again, I always like the (unofficial) Florida plates that read "Arrive Stoned".

    December 11, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • jesus saves

      An utterly pedestrian thought...people with thoughts like you should keep quiet as you have no clue to what you are talking about. You argument is insulting to Christians and even though we will have less say in the US our future is bright. Read the bible.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • sam stone

      "people like you should be quiet.....no idea what you are talking about"?

      way to present a powerful argumet, jeebus saves

      December 11, 2012 at 4:13 am |
  20. trollol

    The problem here is that government issued license plates are not to be used as bill boards. if they want to choose the letters and numbers that ID their vehicle, I don't see a problem there. But if the plate comes with a printed message that propagates an idea that not everyone shares, then a problem arises because the plate is government issued.

    December 11, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • thegadfly

      Amen!

      December 11, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • ibelieveinthepeople

      Yes

      December 11, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • Mark

      Like mine that says, "US Army Retired"?

      December 11, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • allenwoll

      .
      tro - Precisely so ! ! !
      .
      So many, too many blind !

      December 11, 2012 at 1:51 am |
    • Lostwinds92

      Correct.

      December 11, 2012 at 1:52 am |
    • Shak

      Bingo, either give the choice to both sides for a plate or none at all. Thank you for an intelligent comment.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:06 am |
    • Ronnie

      Just remember your argument when the government police run your government tag for "no reason"...it's there choice...it's there tag. So get over it.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:42 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.