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Nanny ST8 Of The Week: Anti-government Messages Not Allowed On License Plates

(Eric Boehm)  It’s the NANNY-ST8 for your license plate.

In addition to outright vulgarity and racism, some states prohibit messages on vanity license plates that can be viewed as “anti-government.”

In Pennsylvania, for example, where five state employees in Harrisburg get to decide what’s allowed on vanity plates, banned words include “PUTSCH,” a German word roughly equivalent to the more-well-known France term “coup d’état” but with an uncomfortable connection to Hitler and the Nazis.

But “ENDFED,” a reference to libertarian-led efforts to shut down the Federal Reserve Bank, is also on the do-not-license list, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Melissa Daniels explains that any reference to drugs or sex are also banned, no matter how subtle — “Grass” is banned because it could be an alias for marijuana — or odd: “SexNazi” got the hook, though we’d like to hear a bureaucrat give the official definition for that one.

The wordsmiths at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation are always on the look-out for new offenders.

When vanity plate applications arrive, PennDOT license specialists check them against a list of 20,000 dirty words and banned phrases. They look up Internet slang and scroll through acronym dictionaries,” Daniels explains.

Presumably, they pass the rest of their day by playing Scrabble and listening to “Stairway To Heaven” on repeat, trying to find new double entendres for drug use.

But don’t blame Pennsylvania for its silly rules — pretty much every state does this.

In Connecticut, “BALZ” and “SCREWU” are illegal, probably because they offend the state’s charming, idyllic vision of itself.

But the CT Post reported last month the state also bans “PITA” and “TOBASCO,” seemingly for no reason at all.

Before plates are handed out to drivers, the requests are first automatically reviewed and checked for potential offensive phrasing through the banned license plate list, according to William Seymour, director of communications of Connecticut DMV. More than 1,000 words make the list.

We’ll concede the government gets to decide what’s allowed and not allowed on license plates, because it is the state that is making and selling them (is it really “selling” if they are mandatory?) to car-owners.

Indeed, that’s exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month in a case that flew way under the radar of the court’s other big decisions.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court held that Texas’ decision to ban the confederate flag from state license plates was not a violation of free speech because license plates are a form of “government speech.”

When the government speaks, it is not barred by the Free Speech Clause from determining the content of what it says” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer in the majority opinion.

In the wake of that decision, Virginia Gov. Terry Mcaullife has asked Attorney General Mark Herring to challenge a 2002 federal court decision that Virginia could not block the Confederate Veterans from displaying its logo, which includes the Confederate flag, on state license plates.

You could even make a case — though a less constitutionally sound one — that the state should limit expressions of outright vulgarity or blatant racism on license plates, in the name of keeping our highways more civilized and cutting down on road rage, perhaps.

But is it worth it to have taxpayer-paid bureaucrats spending all day searching and scouring the darkest corners of 4chan to make sure no one will be driving around with the latest slang drug reference affixed to the back of their car?

For that matter, is there any good reason at all to ban so-called “anti-government” statements on license plates? It’s not as if someone can really make a convincing case for anarchy in 10 letters or less.

Or can they?


Nailed it.