Lawsuit: DMV shouldn’t choose which ‘offensive’ license plates to censor

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the Rhode Island DMV, arguing that the administration cannot pick and choose which vanity license plates are considered offensive.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of an environmentally conscious Tesla owner who obtained the license plate “FKGAS” last summer.

Sean Carroll, according to the lawsuit, was recently advised by the DMV that, following an anonymous complaint, he had one day to return the license plate or else his car registration would be canceled.

The complaint states that when Carroll, who had recently installed solar panels at his home, “explained to his daughter that they could charge the car with energy from the solar panels, she said it was like ‘fake gas.'”

“‘FKGAS’ is my personal statement challenging everyone to look at the world differently,” Carroll said in a statement. “Gas isn’t the only option when it comes to powering your vehicle. My choice for a vanity plate has already brought more attention to alternative fuel sources and electric vehicles.”

The lawsuit argues that DMV administration should not be allowed to choose whether or not vanity plates “might carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency” and that forcing Carroll to return his plate is an infringement on his First Amendment rights.

“The DMV twice issued the license plate ‘FKGAS’ to Mr. Carroll and he drove his Tesla for over five months with that plate on it making his political statement,” ACLU attorney Thomas Lyons said in a statement. “No one complained. Now, after one unknown person complained for some unknown reason, the defendant has decided the plate is ‘inappropriate and/or offensive.’ This looks like political censorship.”

The DMV has approved over 41,000 vanity license plates, denied dozens of others, and maintains a list of more than 1,000 prohibited license plate combinations, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit goes on to cite certain instances where the DMV has denied some plates considered offensive but not others.

“Defendant bans as ‘offensive to good taste and decency’ the license plate CHUBBY but not FATTY; DRUNK but not TIPSY; HAJJI and HELL, but not HEAVEN or JEWISH; GUN but not GUNS or PISTL or SABER; HOOSIER but not FRIAR; REDNECK, but not REDNEK, REDNK OR REDNEC; and SLOB but not NEAT,” the complaint reads.

The ACLU is seeking a temporary restraining order to bar the DMV from canceling Carroll’s car registration. It also looks to clarify what the lawsuit considers an “overly broad and vague” statute that gives the DMV the authority to decide which vanity plates to accept.

It’s unclear at this time why Carroll’s plates were approved in the first place. Eyewitness News has reached out to the DMV for comment but has yet to hear back.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Providence

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