Honk if you’re an 8THEIST: how forbidden vanity plates vary by US state
The Guardian, 16 August 2016
After a two-year long legal dispute, a woman has won the right to display a vanity license plate that reads 8THEIST. The case was settled in federal court last week and means that New Jersey will now also allow license plates such as GODLESS, HEATHEN and BLASFMR. In 2014, the Motor Vehicle Commission of New Jersey wrote to Shannon Morgan to say that her request for the plate 8THEIST “may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency”. After receiving the message, Morgan tested the state’s policies and was successful in applying for a plate using the phrase BAPTIST. She then filed a lawsuit claiming that her first amendment rights had been violated.
It’s not just in New Jersey; laws on vanity plates vary considerably across the country. For example, variations on the word “atheist” are also not allowed in Arkansas but have been approved in Vermont (along with IAMG0D) according to research requests made by governmentattic.com. The site, which compiles Freedom of Information Act requests, wrote to each US state and the District of Columbia in 2012 to discover what plates they’d banned.
The responses they received about forbidden plates can be grouped into various themes from the bizarre to the mundane. Below, are examples of commonly banned plates in several categories. (Because the policies vary so much from state to state, it would be impossible to provide a full description of every prohibited license plate. To see what’s banned in your state, click here.)
DRUGU B0NG GETFKD (also GETFUCT)
KIL0S (because, according to the state of Vermont, they are “used to measure drugs”)
This is an understandable concern for states given that every day in the US 28 people die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver.
6PAK (this could come under body boasting but the state of Vermont thinks otherwise)
Brand names are also banned such as JCKDANLS, BUDYZR and BACRDI1
Race and religion
BIGJEW (along with BIGJUE are not allowed in Vermont, but JEW is permissible)
Body boasting and sexuality
Several states ban plates with variations on 9INCHER, 10INCHER, 11INCHER etc but there seem to be no similar efforts to outlaw anyone choosing to have a plate which reads 5INCHER. Other examples include: BIGWLLY and IMJUICY
Several states also ban references to an individual’s sexuality such as IMBI and IMGAY. (Vermont also bans PYRRHA explaining that this is the “greek goddess of lesbia”).
CUNLNGS is not allowed in Washington. EATAZ, EATMUF and EATDCK are not allowed in Arkansas.
IM4WINE, T0PLESI and YMEG0D are allowed in Vermont.
If in doubt, the Motor Vehicle Commission of Wisconsin provides some tips for those thinking about applying for a vanity plate. Tips include “Check for phonetic spellings. Eg PHQ, PHART” and “Does the spacing change the meaning of the message? Eg: USPAZ v U SPAZ”.