Thursday, July 23, 2009


There is no way I could paraphrase an article from the ACLU of Colorado newsletter. For that reason I will quote it word for word. My apologies to this great organization for ripping off their writing.

From the June 2009 issue of All Rights Reserved:

Between fighting to repeal the death penalty, representing the wrongfully arrested and suing on behalf of prisoners subjected to inexcusable abuse, we deal with pretty serious topics. Every once in a while, however, we come across a civil liberties issue that makes us smile.

It all started when a dedicated vegan Kelly Lee-Coffman wanted to express her joy of soy by displaying ILVTOFU on her license plate. Despite her willingness to pay an extra $50, plus an additional annual fee, the Colorado DMV rejected her application. Officials denied the plate on the grounds that some less-than-vegetable-minded observers might read "I LV TO F-U" which would violate the department's propriety standard, which bans anything deemed to be "offensive to good taste and decency."

Upon learning that anonymous DMV censors wielded ultimate power in determining the definition of "good taste," we started to wonder, "What else had they banned?" Our first open records request produced a complete list of rejected plates. Most were obvious variations on George Carlin's seven words you can't say on television, though Colorado DMV censors had expanded that list to at least a couple dozen. Some, like "2MFENAD" were simply inscrutable (if that's naughty, we're not clever enough to if figure out).

The censorship made even less sense once we compared the banned plates to the list of nearly 50,000 approved plates. We may not be the most qualified experts on decency, but we still can't figure out why "GEEK" was censored and "NERD" was allowed. Or why "NOCRAP" was in, but "CRAP" was out. "TOOSEXY" was banned, but "2SEXY" was just fine. "TOPLE55" - out, "TOPLESS" - in.

When word of our interest in vanity plates reached State Senator Greg Brophy, who represents the eastern plains, he did not share our concern over censorship. However, he suggested two plates that we're quite sure the Colorado DMV would not permit: "ACLUSUX" and "FUACLU". Executive Director Cathy Hazouri kindly replied that if Sen. Brophy would like to challenge the censorship of his preferred plates in court, we'd be glad to take his case! We're still waiting for an answer. In the meantime, the exchange has been covered nationwide, including the Rachel Maddow Show and the LA Times.

Beyond the quips and editorials, at issue here is the government's role in subjectively deciding what is and what is not allowed. In addition to the silly and arbitrary, there are some clear examples of political speech being banned, such as "BADUSA". Vanity plates may only have a marginal role in our daily lives, but they are nonetheless a facet of public speech bound by the Constitution.

Find out more about this issue by going to our website and clicking on the license plate. You'll find a list of banned plates, an explanation of the background, and our very own web game which will let you match your censorship skills against the DMV.

Back to me.

The site mentioned is

In the same newsletter they also wrote about their defense of a student at Dakota Ridge High School who wore a "NObama" t-shirt when Michelle Obama made a campaign stop at the school. When he refused to leave he was handcuffed, issued an order to appear, and held against his will. He was also suspended. After the ACLU discussed the case with the Jefferson County Sheriff's office all charges were dropped, and the school rescinded the suspension.

I support the ACLU because of it's willingness to defend all our rights, and every one's rights. If you limit what organizations you support, as I do, I hope that the ACLU is one that you support. Be it a mass murderer, Dick Cheney, the KKK, or a law abiding citizen caught in a web of circumstances, if the ACLU feels that that person's constitutional rights were denied they will defend them. (Oh, I forgot. Dick Cheney is a mass murderer.)


  1. Stan,

    This cannot help but be amusung despite it's serious side! Just before I accessed my e-mail I wrote a check to the ACLU and sealed it ready to send. It's one organization that I will definitely continue to support.

    Love, Grannu Smith

  2. The ACLU of Northern California got a donation of $50.00 from one of our friends in memory of Otto J. M. Smith.