The South Carolina iBelieve license plate is the only Christian tag in America.
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 become 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!
Dr. Oran Smith
Former President & CEO
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