Live 5 Investigates: The Separation of Church and Plate

Separation of Church and Plate
Published: May. 2, 2018 at 3:14 AM EDT|Updated: May. 2, 2018 at 7:11 AM EDT
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As plate officer for the SCDMV, Hermenia Perkins-Brown decides which plate requests are...
As plate officer for the SCDMV, Hermenia Perkins-Brown decides which plate requests are approved. (Source: Live 5)
The "I Believe" license plate is one option for people who wish to display their faith....
The "I Believe" license plate is one option for people who wish to display their faith. (Source: Live 5)
The SCDMV also offers an "In God We Trust" vanity plate. (Source: Live 5)
The SCDMV also offers an "In God We Trust" vanity plate. (Source: Live 5)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Thousands of people across South Carolina driven by self-expression have purchased personalized license plates.

But there's a running list of words and phrases that officials at the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles won't allow you to display on your tag. And you might be surprised to learn two of those words are God and Jesus.

"Currently we're showing that as of March 31, we currently have 44,000 personalized plates that are active currently," Hermenia Perkins-Brown says.

As the plate officer for the SC DMV, she gets the final say on whether you get that personalized tag.

That includes everything from plates that show off school pride, others that support our military and history, and those that display the type of work we do.

"Well, we want to give the citizens in South Carolina the opportunity to express themselves with their vanity plates, however, we have to be mindful that we are not issuing anything that could be potentially offensive to other citizens," Perkins-Browns says.

She has four team members on her unit.  And all day, every business day, they review and approve personal plate applications, about 800 per month.
Some they have to turn down for obvious reasons: Catkllr (cat killer), SykoMom (psycho mom), and PillPwr (pill power).

Those words will now end up on a list of more than three thousand banned words and phrases at the DMV.  But some other words that are banned may surprise you.  They include Christ, church, Jesus, Judah, and Jehovah.

"We try to stay away from the religious words such as Christ, Jesus, those kinds of things, just for political correctness," Perkins-Browns says.

But at Crowfield Baptist Church in Goose Creek, Senior Pastor David Coleman is concerned about this effort toward political correctness, to keep a separation of church and plate, if you will.

"What is the likelihood that anything, isn't going to offend someone?' When the state takes on the task of completely eliminating anything and everything that someone might find offensive, I don't believe there's ever going to be an end to that," Coleman says.

He's seen the list of banned words and agrees that some of them obviously shouldn't appear on a license plate.

"They are profane and obscene, and it saddens me that the name of Jesus and God are included in a list like that," Coleman says.

Perkins-Brown says her team's responsibility, goes beyond being courteous to all drivers. She says banning certain words, even religious ones, goes to safety as well.

"So we look at it from the perspective, we're not wanting to offend anyone but then we're also trying to protect the citizens because someone could potentially target them specifically for that plate as well," she says.

Drivers who want to display their faith may use the state's official "In God We Trust" plate, or the one designed for the group, "I Believe," which shows three crosses and the letters J and C. You will see some older personalized tags with the words Jesus and God, but going forward, the DMV will deny all applications for those words.

It's also in the process of revising the banned list to remove words no longer deemed offensive and add others that might be. And as culture and language change, the plate team relies heavily on the Urban Dictionary, to spot words and phrases that are a no-no.

And if there are plates that contain an offensive word or phrase that makes it past the DMV team, officials will contact those drivers and ask them to return the plate and make a new selection.  If drivers refuse, their plates will be revoked, and they risk driving illegally. We will not be sharing the DMV's list of offensive words, because there are phrases not appropriate for social media.

If you'd like to make a formal complaint about a plate you see on the road, you can contact the SC DMV at 1-803-896-5000.

For those who want a personalized license plate, it all starts with a one-page application. You get three options of seven words, to convey your message. You can get one at your local DMV office and fill it out there, or print it off online and d rop it in the mail.

Once you've filled out that application for your personalized license plate, all roads lead to the SC DMV headquarters in Blythewood, just outside of Columbia where the form will be reviewed.

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