. . .though I don't believe the suit against it will ultimately be successful.
This blog has reported earlier about efforts in Florida to create a Christian-themed specialty license plate. South Carolina has begun production and, as of this week, been ordered to stop. Americans United, who brought the suit, has been crowing about a preliminary injunction handed down this week.
Just to be clear about this, a preliminary injunction does give an indication that the judge is leaning toward the party who secures it, but it isn't a complete win, even at the trial court level. It is what it say -- preliminary. Under the right circumstances a judge will make one party or the other stop what they are doing to preserve the status quo pending the ultimate decision. While one part of the calculus is a judgment that the moving party is likely to succeed on the merits, it's entirely possible to obtain a preliminary injunction, then ultimately lose.
To say nothing of the appeal. The Fourth Circuit runs shoulder to shoulder with DC in the race for the most conservative appellate panel. And at some point the Supremes will weigh in as well and the current Court is not friendly to Establishment Clause claims.
In the opinion granting the injunction, the trial court notes:
- As the Supreme Court has further explained, "Government may not promote or affiliate itself with any religious doctrine or organization." [quoting County of Allegheny v. ACLU].
A lot has happened to Kennedy's jurisprudence since 1989s- he is the one conservative justice who has drifted toward the center. So it remains to be seen whether that is still his view and whether he will forego that view given that the majority decided differently. Personally I'm not confident that he will.
And so what's the harm, you ask? If the standard is actual coercion, shouldn't that offer enough protection to reprobates and heretics like yr humble blogger and his friends. Well, a couple of things. First off, make no mistake -- making nonbelievers feel as if they are outside the American community isn't a side effect of efforts like the SC license plate, it's a goal. And a constant drumbeat of messages that certain people are not "real" Americans pushes closer and closer to the level of coercion.
In other words, the line between government conveying the message that nonbelievers are truly part of the community and "coercion" is far more difficult to draw that Justice Kennedy seems to believe.