Every state has different rules governing what can and can't be displayed on vanity license plates. Not only do they vary, but many are vague about what combinations of letters and/or numbers are acceptable, which forces the state to determine acceptability on a case-by-case basis. Remember the 'ILVTOFU' controversy of 2011? Or what about Georgia's rejection of gay-themed license plates?
New Jersey resident David Silverman has published a tale on Twitter regarding his application to the state's Motor Vehicle Commission for a personalized license plate that reads "ATHEIST." Silverman says in his tweet that the reason given for the state's rejection of his godless vanity plate was that it's offensive.
We don't have much insight into how New Jersey decides which vanity plates are acceptable, but we did find this report published earlier this year on NJ.com that reveals a list of 1,085 words banned by the MVC for use on vanity plates. ATHEIST is not on the list (nor is THEIST, for that matter), but MVC spokesman Mike Horan told the reporter that applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, so the list has probably grown since then.
New Jersey's got another problem: David Silverman isn't just any atheist, he's the President of American Atheists, a group that's been around since the '60s with a track record of taking cities and states to court to uphold the rights of non-believers. It doesn't sound like Silverman was looking for a fight, but the Garden State just gave him one. He's already filed his first appeal.