(UPI) — An Indiana man enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union to help win his fight against the state for a custom license plate reading, “ATHE1ST.”

Chris Bontrager said a letter from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles did not cite a specific reason why his request for the vanity plate was denied in February, but the letter stated plates can be denied if they are determined to be offensive, misleading, or considered otherwise improper for issuance by the BMV.

Bontrager, suspecting the denial was religiously motivated, sought assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

“My intention was never to litigate this matter,” Bontrager told the Elkhart Truth. “I just felt that the process should be more transparent.”

The BMV released a short statement in February explaining their position.

“The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that a state-issued license plate message constitutes government speech. As such, the BMV has broad discretion to approve or deny a given personalized plate message for any reason,” the statement said.

The BMV reversed its decision, however, after the ACLU argued the case could be a violation of the establishment cause, which prevents the state from showing preference to one religion over another. Bontrager said the state had previously approved other religious-related plates, including one reading “NO GODS.”

Bontrager said he received his “ATHE1ST” plate in the mail Monday.

He said the delay in getting his new plate led to at least one incident where he was pulled over March 3 for driving with expired plates.

“I didn’t get a ticket. I actually showed the cop the newspaper I had sitting on my passenger seat and he just laughed and said ‘oh, that is you,” Bontrager wrote in a Facebook post.


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