PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — An environmentally conscious car owner will be able to keep his “FKGAS” license plate after a federal judge ruled late Friday that a state law allowing the DMV to reject vanity plates that are “offensive to good taste” likely violates the First Amendment.
Judge Mary McElroy agreed with arguments made by ACLU of Rhode Island attorneys that the law violates the First Amendment by giving the DMV the ability to ban speech based on the message.
The suit was filed in March on behalf of Sean Carroll, a Tesla owner who had been told by the DMV, in response to an anonymous complaint, to turn in his license plate “FKGAS” or else have his car registration cancelled.
“The revocation of the license plate, which would prohibit Mr. Carroll from expressing his views on fossil fuel propulsion of motor vehicles, would stifle him in an irreparable way,” McElroy ruled.
The DMV has approved more than 41,000 vanity license plates, denied dozens of others and maintains a list of more than 1,000 prohibited license plates.
The lawsuit also pointed out the arbitrary nature of the list.
“The DMV has prohibited such combinations as AIDS, CHRIST, GAY, JESUS, LESBIAN, REDNECK and YANKEE. But it has issued plates that read CHRIST, JEWISH, REDNEC AND REDNEK,” McElroy said. “It has prohibited words that are typically denigrating, such as CHUBBY and SLOB, but allowed FATT and OLDFRT.”
The lawsuit said that when Carroll was inspired to get the license plate after purchasing the electric car and his daughter saying it was like “fake gas.”
“I am thrilled with Judge McElroy’s decision on my First Amendment right allowing me to express my views through my vanity plate,” Carroll said. “The only thing better is to be able to continue to see all the smiles, laughter, thumbs up and fist bumps in the rear-view mirror as people continue to read and get the humor in my message.”