A new Tennessee license plate, without the phrase “In God We Trust.” (tn.gov)
Tennessee drivers can choose whether or not to include “In God We Trust” on their license plates when renewing this year, an option that is attracting controversy.
In Nov. 2021, Gov. Bill Lee invited Tennesseans to vote on a new design. The resulting new, all-blue design for license plates replaced the old plates, which depicted the mountains of Tennessee — and based on an option they choose, drivers may be giving away clues about their religious beliefs.
The standard plate places letters in front of numbers when assigning a configuration. But on plates with the phrase “In God We Trust”, the letters and numbers are reversed.
A viral social media post pointed out the procedure and commenters raised concerns that drivers could be easily identified and targeted based on their decision.
According to Kelly Cortesi, spokesperson for the state Department of Revenue, the decision to give the “In God We Trust” plate a specific configuration format was for “administrative and inventory purposes.”
The “In God We Trust” plate begins with numbers, followed by letters, while the standard plate begins with letters followed by numbers. State law provides that Tennesseans may elect to receive a license plate that includes the words “In God We Trust” as an alternative to the standard plate, but Cortesi said the ability to opt out of having the “In God We Trust” license plates has been available since 2017.
“This helps prevent duplicate issuance of sequences between the two plate types,” said Cortesi.
This is not the first issue with the new blue plates: Earlier this year, state officials found that license plate recognition cameras could not read the new tags.
As of Sept. 22, approximately 3.75 million new plates. About 40% of tags were standard plates while 60% were “In God We Trust” plates.
By demographics, East Tennessee had the highest percentage of “In God We Trust” license plates at 66%, with West Tennessee accounting for the lowest percentage at 53%.
In Middle Tennessee, 42% of license plates were standard while 58% opted for “In God We Trust” plates.
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