(RNS) Every state’s department of motor vehicles routinely rejects applications for vanity license plates that are deemed offensive or in poor taste, but officials in New Jersey apparently didn’t have the stomach for a high-volume fight over an application for an “ATHE1ST” plate.

 David Silverman with retired "ATHEIST" New Jersey plate. Photo courtesy Dave Muscato/American Atheists

David Silverman with retired “ATHEIST” New Jersey plate. Photo courtesy Dave Muscato/American Atheists

This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission initially rejected the application from David Silverman, president of the Cranford, N.J.-based American Atheists, as “objectionable.”

When Silverman called the MVC to lodge a complaint, he was told the word is “offensive.” A legal defense fund was set up and Silverman readied for battle, but on Wednesday (Aug. 28), Silverman was told he could have the plate.

“‘Atheist’ is not an offensive or objectionable word anymore than the word ‘Jew’ or ‘Christian’ or ‘man’ or ‘woman’ is,” Silverman said.

“It is a common noun, it is in the dictionary and it is not only allowed in multiple other states, the word is used on dog tags for the U.S. government. It is who and what I am.”

MVC officials, who declined to comment, cited a “clerical error,” according to Silverman.

New Jersey maintains a list of 1,085 words (or variations of them) that are banned from vanity plates, and any plate can be rejected at the discretion of department employees. While BOOBIES and KKK are included on the list, ATHEIST – in any form – is not.

In fact, New Jersey has issued an “ATHEIST” plate before. The retired plate is hanging on the wall in Silverman’s office, sent in by a supporter years ago. And the state approved Silverman’s previous vanity plate, “BLASFMR.” Minnesota, Alabama and Florida, among others, have all issued “ATHEIST” plates.

Religion-themed vanity plates frequently get the nod from state officials. Georgia has approved “GOD4EVR” and “44JESUS,” while people in Vermont are driving around behind “PSALM48” and “JN36TN.” The last is a reference to a Bible verse, and the owner of the plate won the right to bear it in a federal appeals court after it was rejected by local officials.



  1. Although I prefer to consider myself an anti-theist, most religious people would call me an atheist. David is a leader in the movement to abolish stupid superstitious (stupidstitious as I like to call it) beliefs that are and have been destroying human civilization for most of the history of man. Push the line David, that is the only way it will ever be moved. We need more people like you who are willing to stand up against the negativity that the term “atheist” brings about from the religious of the world.
    Live life, love people, without the promise of the carrot, or the threat of the stick.
    Good day!

  2. So, we live in a free country with free speech, and therefore I we should be able to have whatever bumper strips and license plates we want as long as they aren’t the bumper strip version of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. So, of course I support the right of both religious and non-religious people to have obnoxious car-rears.

    However, will a mutual shouting war of obnoxious slogans and license plates make society better?

    The atheist written about here is tired of obnoxious religious license plates cramming faith down his throat? Good for him. He should be tired of it. Because putting a plate on your car that says “hey look at ME! I’m religious!” Is obnoxious.

    But is the solution to battle obnoxious with obnoxious? Maybe it is. Maybe the only way to make ones voice heard over the screaming religious voices is to scream louder. But maybe not.

    Is prefer a world where people kept their faith (or lack thereof) off of their bumpers, and instead chose face to face dialogue with people who are different than they are. But we have the messy gift of free speech, so that means we also can choose to scream at those we disagree with too.

    • I felt the same way….at first. The point is not really about license plates. The point is that there is blatant discrimination of those that do not hold belief. Today it’s a license plate, tomorrow it’s….the world! MUAH AH AHHH. Seriously though, this is a small battle won against a larger religious war.

  3. I want “BOOBIES” on my license plate.
    How does that offend anyone?
    I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like BOOBIES and most people see them as a sign of fertility. What’s not to like?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.