I RECENTLY GOT a specialized license plate for my car. The special plate I chose has an interlocking "N" and "C" on it, but there are also plates honoring, and funding, Clemson, NC State and Duke (not to mention the mystifying one for Purdue University which is located in West Lafayette, Indiana).
The state of North Carolina currently offers over 130 different such special license plates. Surely you have seen some of them, each of which allow the driver to promote a personal cause, while supporting it financially and at the same time giving a few extra dollars to the state.
With a special license plate, you can support, uncontroversially, Litter Prevention and, bizarrely, Watermelon. You can support stock car racing 26 different ways, including displaying a lovely Jimmy Johnson plate, an ugly Tony Stewart one, or, for the noncommittal, a NASCAR® Generic Design edition.
While there is a "Kids First" plate (which provides funds to the North Carolina Children's Trust Fund), so you can support children after they are born, there is one plate you can't get: one that says "Choose Life," which would support children being born. Funds from the sale of the proposed, but not voted on, "Choose Life" plate would be used to help women who elect to give birth by offering them pregnancy support services, placement in a maternity homes, or adoption placement of the baby, which ever the women choose.
In 2009 alone, 50 specialty plate bills passed out of the North Carolina legislative committee which first hears them. But for the past eight years, the Democratic leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly has chosen not to allow the full legislature to vote on this one particular specialty plate.
According to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, the umbrella organization that would distribute the funds raised by the "Choose Life" plate, it is the only proposed license the committee refused to let out for a vote. Other states do not consider this plate controversial. The "Choose Life" license plate currently is available in 24 states, including all the other southeastern states.
NC drivers can get an "Animal Lovers" plate (which says "I Care"), and a "Save The Sea Turtle" plate (which supports sea turtle rescue), but they can't get one if they care to support the rescue of baby humans.
The proposed new plate has been held up, it is said, by a general rule prohibiting political viewpoints on specialty plates. But while "Choose Life" is said to be too political, one currently offered plate supports the National Rifle Association. The NRA is not political? News to me. What is political is suppressing a vote on a bill, for whatever reason.
Some argue that the "Choose Life" plate should not be allowed because it is religious (a very tenuous argument), but one plate which is currently available says, "In God We Trust" (which supports the NC National Guard Soldiers and Airmen Assistance Fund) -- which I would say is a religious statement by pretty much any definition.
Planned Parenthood opposes the "Choose Life" plate because it would distribute proceeds to groups do not give women information about abortion as an option. Of course, Planned Parenthood could have their own plate, if they followed the same procedure that Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship has followed -- and they got the votes to allow it.
These special license plates are not, in my view, a state-government endorsement of anything -- unless we are in a very confused state -- which we may be. These plates simply allow NC drivers to visibly support causes they individually endorse. It's called freedom of choice.
The real question is, from my perspective, is this how a democratic legislature should operate? (Which should be contrasted with how a Democrat-controlled legislature actually does.) I say let the legislators vote, then let the people choose. I guess the fear is they might "Choose Life."
Gary D. Gaddy mostly displays his support of various causes via this column.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday May 28, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy