The IBelieve License Plate: Its History And Bright Future

The IBelieve License Plate: Its History And Bright Future

In 2008, at the urging of then-Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, the South Carolina General Assembly passed, and Governor Mark Sanford allowed to become law without his signature, a bill to create a state-sponsored “I Believe” license plate.  Shortly thereafter, Americans United for the Separation of Church & State sued the DMV, and in 2009 US District Court Judge Cameron Currie ruled the plate unconstitutional as government speech that favored one religion over another. All plates in circulation (design pictured here) were recalled.

The ruling was a dilemma for some of us. We knew that the state-sponsored plate was on shaky legal ground, and that it would possibly, even likely, be overturned. Some thought the whole idea was nothing more than a political stunt, even a hare-brained scheme.

So what to do? The few folks that knew about the plate liked it and wanted to keep it.

That is when a group of Christian leaders from across the political and church spectrum came together to assess the purpose and future of an IBelieve tag for South Carolina. On the purpose question, there was a strong feeling that the plate itself could be used as a gospel witness, not for a particular denomination, but for the simple gospel from the scripture and the creeds of the early church: “God the Father Almighty,” “Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord,” and “that whosever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

To underline that purpose, it was decided that the tag should carry the image not of the stained glass of a church, but of the redeeming death and resurrection of Christ. Another conviction about a new IBelieve tag was that the funds raised from the sales of the plate shouldn’t go for overhead or policy or politics, but for the actual work of spreading the gospel. The group also called for the larger IBelieve organization to be a symbol of Christian unity (Biblical Christian unity that is) and that the IBelieve board should represent that diversity of evangelical Christian faith in South Carolina.

Then came the big question: How could a tag ruled unconstitutional come back from the dead?

Our attorneys told us that a private IBelieve plate (as opposed to a government-sponsored one) might pass muster, but we would need some idea of how that would fly in the courts. The Director of the DMV, Marcia Adams, also wanted some idea of its viability. She understandably didn’t want a second dud of a plate on her hands. So, Director Adams requested an assessment from then Attorney General Henry McMaster. McMaster’s office responded with a firm opinion in our favor, arguing that if the organization were to apply for the plate under the DMV non-profit license plate policy, there would be no constitutional problems. The playing field was level for all non-profits and the Christian nature of the plate would not be a disqualifier.

That’s how the organization, the website, and the plate—all called www.ibelievesc.net—-were born. DMV accepted our application, the usual suspects on the atheist left chose not to sue, and the plates became available to the public in 2012.

We chose a website URL for the name of the organization because a member of our team suggested that the legal name of the organization (and therefore per DMV rules the words to appear on the plate), should be a direct invitation to visit the website, where the plain and simple gospel would be presented. We envisioned a person in traffic stopped behind an IBelieve plate, remembering the web address, and later (or perhaps right then on their smart phone) calling up the site and accepting Christ! (If that is your experience, IBelieve would like to know about it.)

If you don’t have an IBelieve tag on your vehicle, we suggest you apply for one. It is a cinch to convert your current plate over to an IBelieve plate using this link.

When you do so, your automobile will became a moving billboard for the gospel, and your $25 fee will go into a fund for gospel-centered evangelistic work.

Get your IBelieve license plate today! The only Christian license tag in America.

***

Afterword: In the coming weeks, IBelieve will be rolling out an application process for grants from the IBelieve fund. These grants will be for local missions, world missions, and in some cases, theological education. A grant from IBelieve could be the manna you have been seeking for the evangelical efforts of your church or favorite ministry! Visit www.IBelieveSC.net on or after September 1 for more details!

Oran Smith

Oran Smith

Born and raised in the beautiful Upstate of South Carolina, Oran Smith has developed a reputation as a trusted adviser and advocate for solution-driven policy during his many years of service in the Palmetto state.
Oran Smith

Something Works: Taboo Is Gone

Something Works: Taboo Is Gone

Fans of the original Back to the Future will remember 1985 Marty showing up at Dr. Emmett L. Brown’s house in 1955 and showing him The Flux Capacitor.

Doc Brown’s response is a movie classic: “It works! It works! I finally invented something that works!”

The unmitigated joy mixed with shock of that statement captures Palmetto Family’s response to the recent closing of Taboo, a pornographic product store in Columbia.

I’ll never forget that day in December 2011 when our phones began to ring. A former Taco Bell on the major thoroughfare of Devine Street was being painted garish colors and a sign had appeared in front reading “Taboo Adult Superstore.”

Palmetto Family had been working against adult businesses for years, so we weren’t shocked, but this one was particularly horrible. Unlike similar businesses with worse names in Myrtle Beach, Taboo had not chosen a frontage road or an industrial area. This was Devine Street, with its high ends shops, Fort Jackson, and family-friendly neighborhoods like Shandon, Gills Creek, Governor’s Grant and Hampton Hills.

I called Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. He was livid. Is Taboo really in the city limits? How could such an establishment be legal in the city? What happened to zoning? What do we do now?

Fortunately, I knew what to do.

In the wars over the locations of sexually-oriented businesses, we had relied on the advice of a brilliant young attorney out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, L. Scott Bergthold, Esq.  Scott had helped Palmetto Family craft one of our “inventions” that didn’t work: a statewide adult business law. (Scott was brilliant, the South Carolina General Assembly wasn’t.)

Bergthold immediately went to work crafting a more comprehensive, modern, adult business ordinance for the City of Columbia. Under the leadership of Mayor Benjamin and the late Councilwoman Leona Plough, the ordinance got three quick readings. Columbia had made it clear, in a constitutionally defensible manner where adult businesses could operate and where they couldn’t. For Taboo, a two-year clock began to tick. When the owner lawyered up, that two-year clock turned into nearly six years, and went all the way to the Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals in Richmond.

But as I write these words here in the summer of 2017, Taboo has removed its adult content and has become a novelty store. No more porn.

Now I must repent. The Emmett Brown “finally-something-works” reaction isn’t appropriate at all. By His grace, nearly fifty (50) of our specific PFC “inventions” to defend life, family, faith and religious freedom have indeed worked! Sometimes in our perfectionism and desire to win every fight, we see the handful of defeats, but miss the blessings that have rained down on our work.

The Taboo win is instructive. The Lord is still at work in our state and we are honored to be a part.

***

Epilogue: The Lord gives stamina during painful fights like this, but he also gives humor. As Mayor Steve Benjamin and his staff were poring over existing Columbia ordinances, Benjamin, looking for some comic relief, lamented that we came close to being able to get rid of Taboo with just a few letters of the ordinance changed. “Letters?” I asked. “Yes,” said the Mayor. “The existing ordinance says no adult businesses within a certain proximity of a church. Too bad it doesn’t say Church’s.”

There was a Church’s Fried Chicken next door to Taboo.

Oran Smith

Oran Smith

Born and raised in the beautiful Upstate of South Carolina, Oran Smith has developed a reputation as a trusted adviser and advocate for solution-driven policy during his many years of service in the Palmetto state.
Oran Smith

25th Anniversary Matching Challenge

25th Anniversary Matching Challenge

In March, Palmetto Family began the quiet phase of a $100,000 25th Anniversary Matching Challenge after a donor agreed to a $100,000 gift and to allow PFC to use that gift to challenge others — particularly new donors and lapsed donors — to make donations matching that total amount. The next phase of this effort is beginning.

Our budget is obviously more than $200,000 but this figure forms the core of our operations. A three-year commitment gift (in each of the years 2017-2019) to match that $100k would see us through 36 months of operations without distracting from our actual work defending faith, life, family and freedom. Here’s a reminder of what all we accomplished in just this past year.

It's Been A Great 2016

Here at Palmetto Family, we've had a great year. But we need your help to make 2017 even better for our state. Will you partner with us in the cause to make South Carolina the best place to live and raise a family? https://www.palmettofamily.org/give

Posted by Palmetto Family Council on Monday, December 12, 2016

Please consider taking this challenge to help us continue to defend faith, family and freedom in South Carolina…We need your help to rise to this $100k fundraising Challenge!

DONATE RIGHT NOW!

Oran Smith

Oran Smith

Born and raised in the beautiful Upstate of South Carolina, Oran Smith has developed a reputation as a trusted adviser and advocate for solution-driven policy during his many years of service in the Palmetto state.
Oran Smith

High Court Boosts Religious Freedom And School Choice

High Court Boosts Religious Freedom And School Choice

Reading between the lines of the decision handed down by the US Supreme Court in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer (June 26, 2017), there is a bit of…shall we say…anxiety. We will get to that in a moment.

Trinity Lutheran is known as “the Playground Case,” because the merits surround the issue of whether a religious preschool should be allowed to be reimbursed by the State of Missouri for a rubberized playground safety surface. The State had turned down Trinity’s application for the old tire recycling program based on a Missouri Constitutional provision that bans state funds “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”

In siding with Trinity Lutheran, Chief Justice Roberts was pointed, writing that “…the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”

The outcome of the case (7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran) is good news for churches and religious institutions. It could also be good news for school choice.

Now for the anxiety. Several of those joining in the majority opinion were so overcome with worry that they took great pains to insert a footnote—a footnote that became a source of great controversy amongst the Black Robed Nine. Here it is, known as “Footnote 3”:

“This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”

Perhaps smelling a rat, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas refused to join in the note, and because Justice Breyer concurred with the majority in a separate opinion, that’s only four votes of nine for Footnote 3. (Others may differ. To me, that’s not a majority.)

The dyspepsia of the court in Trinity Lutheran turned into a full-blown case of gastritis in the legal community blogosphere. For one legal scholar of the left, Michigan State Law Professor Frank S. Ravitch, it was the specter of that dark apparition Zelman (the 2002 SCOTUS decision that found school vouchers constitutional):

“[A] question left open in Zelman was whether government must fund religious entities when it opens up a generally available funding program. Until Trinity Lutheran the answer was unclear. It now seems that Trinity Lutheran may be used to expand the rule in Zelman from a ‘may’ to a ‘must,’ so that state and local governments will now have to include religious schools in voucher programs, or other programs, for fear of violating the free exercise clause.”

To the dismay of Professor Ravitch, the upshot of Zelman + Trinity Lutheran is that even states with Blaine Amendments, the state constitutional provisions like Missouri’s (and South Carolina’s) that prevent public funds from benefitting religious institutions, could be emboldened to adopt school choice programs. Trinity Lutheran could build on Zelman to make it clear that a school is no longer off limits as an entity with which the state may engage to teach children just because that school may be attached to a church or hold to a statement of faith.

Trinity Lutheran v. Comer had an outcome we should pause to cherish, a decision from the US Supreme Court that is good news for freedom: faith freedom and school freedom!

Note: There are at least two South Carolina connections to the efforts of Trinity Lutheran to win at the high court. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson was a part of 16 state attorneys general who signed an amicus brief. Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC3) signed a separate amicus with 34 Members of Congress.

Oran Smith

Oran Smith

Born and raised in the beautiful Upstate of South Carolina, Oran Smith has developed a reputation as a trusted adviser and advocate for solution-driven policy during his many years of service in the Palmetto state.
Oran Smith

We’ve Moved To A New Office

We’ve Moved To A New Office

The legislative session has come to an end and summer is upon us. Normally that means a quiet period for Palmetto Family, but not for Summer 2017! We are thankful for a number of blessings that have come our way in the past few weeks, but one of the greatest is our new office space.

Palmetto Family, along with eight other evangelical ministries, has been chosen for office space at cost in an attractive building that fronts Lady Street in Downtown Columbia. The rent for the space (built originally for a prominent law firm) will save PFC between $10,000 and $15,000 per year and it is 1/10 of a mile closer to the Statehouse than our former location! The other ministries and Palmetto Family will form Ministry House Columbia, a home for collaboration across all types of ministry from public policy to campus ministry to world missions. It is an exciting and unique concept and Palmetto Family is thrilled to be a part. I have also committed to spend between one and three days a week in the Upstate near my family home of Greer. Perhaps the Lord will supply an office there too!

Come visit our new Midlands office at 1414 Lady Street near the corner of Bull and Lady in Columbia!

Oran Smith

Oran Smith

Born and raised in the beautiful Upstate of South Carolina, Oran Smith has developed a reputation as a trusted adviser and advocate for solution-driven policy during his many years of service in the Palmetto state.
Oran Smith