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At a public hearing, no one spoke in favor of a proposed rule to remove vanity license plates

ODD Vanity Plates
Robert F. Bukaty
In this Feb. 2011 file photo, traffic approaches Maine Turnpike toll booths in Gardiner, Maine. A Maine law banning obscene license plates goes into effect Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, but getting the foul language off the roads and highways won't happen overnight.

No one spoke in favor of a proposed rule that gives the state the authority to recall or reject vanity license plates that incite violence, contain profanities or obscenities or racial, religious, or ethnic slurs at a public hearing at the state house Friday. And only one person testified in opposition. Anahita Sotoohi of the ACLU of Maine said the proposal gives certain state workers undue authority to decide standards, and violates the first amendment to the Constitution.

"Under the First Amendment, the government cannot ban 'speech expressing ideas that offend.' The Supreme Court has recognized that a desire to give offense is a viewpoint, and that therefore banning speech motivated by a desire to offend is viewpoint discrimination," Sotoohi said.

Sotoohi said courts in New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Michigan and Missouri have already struck down similar rules aimed at regulating the content of vanity plates. In a press release, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, former director of the ACLU of Maine, argued that while the First Amendment does protect the right to express opinions on bumper stickers, it does not force the state to issue official registration plates that subject children to obscenity and profanity.

Public comments will be accepted through June 6.