Judge: pro-life tags violate First Amendment - FOX Carolina 21

Federal court rules pro-life license plates in NC unconstitutional

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A U.S. District Court ruled that "Choose Life" license plates to be offered in North Carolina violate the First Amendment. (Source: Choose Life/CNN) A U.S. District Court ruled that "Choose Life" license plates to be offered in North Carolina violate the First Amendment. (Source: Choose Life/CNN)

(RNN) - A federal judge has ruled that North Carolina's planned "Choose Life" license plate is unconstitutional.

The U.S. district court in Raleigh, NC decided Friday that offering a license plate promoting pro-life views is unconstitutional because  the state does not offer an alternative tag that supports "reproductive freedom" and a woman's right to choose.

"The State's offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment," U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox ruled.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation led the suit to block the plates, saying that it filed the suit to protect North Carolina residents "seeking a specialty license plate that supports a woman's right to reproductive freedom."

ACLU officials cited the North Carolina General Assembly's rejection of several proposed plates promoting pro choice views. State representatives filed six amendments to the bill authorizing the "Choose Life" license plates that would provide an alternative, however all of them failed.

Proposed plates offered in the amendments included tags saying either "Trust Women. Respect Choice," or "Respect Choice."

The lawsuit, filed in September 2011, received a preliminary injunction in November 2011 to temporarily block the production of the tags until a final decision could be reach.

"This is a great victory for the free speech rights of all North Carolinians, regardless of their point of view on reproductive freedom," said ACLU-NCLF Legal Director Chris Brooks in a statement. "The government cannot create an avenue of expression for one side of a contentious political issue while denying an equal opportunity to citizens with the opposite view."

Brooks added that his organization would have taken the same action of the state would have only offered license plates promoting reproductive freedom.

State Representative Mitch Gillespie introduced the bill supporting the license plates in 2011, however his office could not be reached for comment. 

According to WRAL-TV, Raleigh Bishop Michael Burbidge and Charlotte, NC Bishop Peter Jugis issued a joint statement Monday saying the ruling was "a tremendous disappointment."

"We are deeply saddened that North Carolina cannot join many other states that allow their citizens to display the 'Choose Life' plates," read the statement. "We support the effort to encourage the Attorney General of our state to appeal this decision."

"Choose Life" license plates are currently available in 27 states.

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