Flashback: A Complaint to the DMV

In anticipation of the shutdown of Apple’s MobileMe service, I am re-posting some of my old blog entires before they become harder to retrieve.

This entry was originally posted on December 23, 2004.

Yesterday, I dropped a letter into the mail to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (or PennDOT for short). This letter was the result of three weeks worth of introspection, asking myself if I wanted to write the letter. The letter is a complaint, requesting that someone else’s personalized license plate be rescinded.

Every once in a while, someone makes the local news because they applied for a personalized license plate that was granted by a DMV worker who didn’t realize that the plate can be considered offensive. In recent years, the state of New York rescinded 3MTA3 because nobody looked at it in a mirror, the state of Washington rescinded GOT MILF because nobody had seen the movie American Pie, and the state of California rescinded NYX because nobody knew that this, reflected in a mirror, is extremely crude Russian slang for Penis.

(Incidentally, for those who have not seen American Pie, MILF stands for “Mom I’d Like to Fuck.”)

In the case of all three of the above-referenced license plates, I applaud the ingenuity of the people who applied for their plates. Although I was not offended by any of them, I do recognize how some people could be offended.

Similarly, I was not offended by the license plate that I saw. Not being offended is not the same, though, as not recognizing the impropriety of the plate, and I do acknowledge that the three plates cited above are inappropriate. Hence my introspection. What I saw, in Newtown, PA, on the night of Saturday, December 4, 2004, was a Pennsylvania plate that reads JC-DYD4U.

In my letter, I pointed out that nobody speaks of a greater purpose behind the death of Julia Child earlier this year, and that former president Jimmy Carter is still alive. I therefore see no reason to expect that the JC of this plate stands for Jesus Christ, pure and simple. And Jesus apparently died for me (and anyone else reading this plate… ) I don’t know if this plate implies that Jesus died for the driver of that car, too, but I do not consider it relevant.

When I first posed my dilemma to some friends of mine, one person suggested that I complain loudly on separation of church and state grounds. I quickly responded by saying that those grounds do not stand up unless the plate itself is on a state-issued car, and I saw no reason to think that would be the case.

One of the more common responses I got was that I have too much time on my hands. Perhaps, but not really. I agree with Michael Newdow, who attempted to argue before the Supreme Court earlier this year, that the phrase “Under God” does not belong in the pledge of allegiance (although I, personally, think the entire pledge should be done away with…) Furthermore, I do not believe “In god we trust” belongs on our currency, and I will refuse to swear on a bible if called on the witness stand.

So I don’t consider it a bad idea to start somewhere.

I enjoy debating with Jehovah’s Witnesses when they come to my door, however they don’t really like to hang around with me once they realize that I’m trying as hard to turn them off of their religion as they are trying to turn me on to theirs.

And that’s the point. Proselytization and evangelicism are dangerous, because they try to convince people that their interpretation of their god is the one and only right way. So get on the bus or be doomed. (insert maniacal laughter here).

That’s what makes this license plate inappropriate. Not only does this person focus too heavily on the one aspect of the life of Jesus that should be the afterthought, but he’s trying to convince me that I should change my life and my whole belief structure because of it.

I would never ask another person to die for me. Even if someone did end up dying for me, that doesn’t alter the fact that I will die on my own at some point in the future, thus making the request of another person a by and large pointless exercise.

I contacted PennDOT about a week or so after I saw the license plate, asking general questions about getting a personalized license plate. There are four general rules:

1. A one-time $20.00 fee
2. A limit of seven alphanumeric characters
3. Nobody else can have the same plate, and
4. The plate can’t be offensive.

Offensive is a subjective term. 3MTA3 — or “eat me” backwards appears on the cover of the Beastie Boys album, License to Ill, and is one of the reasons why that album cover is often cited as one of the best 100 album covers of all time.

I asked the woman I spoke with about how “offensive” is defined, and the most she could tell me was that the people who process the requests use their judgment. I started by dancing around this point by asking fairly obvious questions: profanity is considered offensive.

I asked if a license plate with a Satanic message (maybe “GO SATAN”) would be considered offensive and if it would be turned down, and my representative simply didn’t know and couldn’t ask anyone.

Too bad, because if that would have been considered offensive, then it would have made my decision a hell of a lot easier. Why allow a statement of one religion while denying another?

Ultimately, I decided to complain about the license plate because it is proselytizing, and it’s an unwelcome intrusion into one of the most private aspects of a person’s life: his or her religion. Bumper stickers are one thing, but a license plate is something completely different.

I dropped my letter in the mail yesterday. Allowing for delivery time in the busiest season of all, I can figure that they will receive my letter early to mid-next week, and then the fun will begin.

Wouldn’t it be funny if this makes the local and/or national news?


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