A judge has ordered the state of Kentucky to pay $150,000 to atheist groups representing a man whose request for an “IM GOD” license plate was denied.
“Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove issued the decision Monday, three months after he declared the state’s action unconstitutional,” according to Fox News.
In 2016, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state on behalf of self-described atheist Ben Hart.
The retired postal worker moved from Ohio to Kentucky and asked that his license plate be personalized to read “IM GOD” below the “In God We Trust” inscription.
In his ruling November 13, Tatenhove wrote, “Vanity plates are private speech protected by the First Amendment,” according to Christian Headlines.
The judge also noted that the stated permitted residents to have plates that read “IM4GOD” and “LUVGOD” but refused to grant Hart’s request.
Tatenhove, who was nominated by former President George W. Bush, sided with apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis during its legal battle in 2016 over tax incentives regarding its Ark Encounter theme park.
“The Commonwealth does not allow drivers to say anything they want with a license plate message. That’s fine, but the First Amendment also imposes limits on the Commonwealth. And in this case … the Commonwealth went too far,” he stated.
Prior to the ruling, Kentucky’s Division of Motor Vehicles reportedly said the plate’s message was “not in good taste.”
In a statement, FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor commented that the group works hard to “ensure the constitutional rights of ordinary folks,” adding, “We truly appreciate that the court recognizes this.”
The FFRF said Hart received his new plate a few weeks ago and also praised Tatenhove’s ruling.
“FFRF hails the final decision — and the fact that Hart can finally express himself through his license plate,” the group’s website read.