A Kentucky man was recently awarded thousands of dollars from a lawsuit after he was denied a request to have his longtime license plate, reading “IM GOD”, displayed on his car in his new home state.
For the past few years, Ben “Bennie” Hart has been embroiled in legal woes with the state of Kentucky after he was told that his license plate was “not in good taste” despite driving around with it for more than a decade, Fox affiliate WXIX reported.
On Monday, WXIX confirmed that a United States District Judge ruled in Hart’s favor, ordering the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) to pay him $150,000 in attorney fees following the years-long lawsuit.
Leading up to the November 2016 filing, Hart — who identifies as an atheist — was living in Ohio and had an “IM GOD” license plate on his car because he felt it was a way for him to express how faith can be interpreted in many ways, including the true identity of God.
“I can prove I’m God. You can’t prove I’m not,” he told the outlet. “Now, how can I prove I’m God? Well, there are six definitions for God in the American Heritage Dictionary, and number five is a very handsome man, and my wife says I’m a very handsome man, and nobody argues with my wife.”
In 2016, Hart and his wife moved to Kenton County, where he registered to keep his “IM GOD” license plates, WXIX reported.
After a brief approval, Hart was shocked to learn in a letter from the KYTC that his request had been denied, according to the lawsuit that was filed by The American Civil Liberties Union and Freedom From Religion Foundation against the Kentucky Department of Motor Vehicles on behalf of Hart.
In the document, Hart stated that he initially requested the plate in Ohio because he “thought it was interesting, and … it was a conversation.”
When he moved to Kentucky, he opted to keep it because it was “his way of spreading a political and philosophical message that faith is susceptible to individualized determination,” but he was soon met with pushback, the lawsuit states.
A letter addressed to Hart from the KYTC rationalized their decision by saying that the plate “may not be vulgar or obscene,” according to the lawsuit. KYTC officials later clarified that the plate was not vulgar, but rather, “the use of ‘IM GOD’ is not in good taste and would create the potential of distraction to other drivers and possibly confrontations,” the document states.
The state’s lawyers also argued that it wasn’t specific to God and that they’d be making the same decision if the request was “IM ALLAH”, “IM BUDDAH”, or “IM SATAN”, according to WXIX.
Hart denied that his plates brought on any distractions, telling the outlet, “It didn’t seem to bother people at all. Once in a while, I got somebody to ask me about it.”
In the lawsuit, his attorneys said restricting Hart from having the plates would violate the First Amendment and “censor his speech based on viewpoint.”
“What we have to guard against is the encroachment on our rights, on the constitution,” Hart told WXIX.
Additionally, his team pointed out in the document that the KYTC already allowed hundreds of similar plates with “GOD” in it, including “MYGOD,” “LETGOD,” “1GOD,” and “GODCAN” — and his was no different.
Three years after the initial filing, the court ruled in November 2019 that the KYTC had violated Hart’s freedom of speech and allowed him to keep his personalized plates in Kentucky, according to WXIX.
It wasn’t until Feb. 10 that the Kentucky man was granted $151,206 in attorney fees and litigation costs by the state, the outlet reported.
A spokesperson for the KYTC did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Source: Read Full Article