The Washington Post

Indiana cop’s ‘0INK’ license plate spurs battle over free speech

(Courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana) (Courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana)

A pig reference on a cop’s license plate request may mean the end of personalized plates in Indiana.

The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles is stepping up its fight against Greenfield Police Officer Rodney Vawter’s license plate request, which reads “OINK.” A local court ruled in May that the state must approve the plate, siding with free speech advocates, but the department announced Monday that it plans to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

More than a year into the battle over vanity plates, the motor vehicle department’s commissioner, Donald Snemis, said state lawmakers will soon have to step in.

“The legislature is going to have to have a discussion about whether we want to have a personalized license plate system,” Snemis told the Associated Press.

Indiana drivers have been unable to purchase vanity plates – which make the state several million dollars a year – since Vawter filed his lawsuit last July.

State officials said they rejected the plate request because they believed it carried “a connotation offensive to good taste and decency.” But for Vawter, the pig snort is a symbol of pride: “As a police officer who has been called ‘pig’ by arrestees, he thought it was both humorous and also a label that he wears with some degree of pride,” his lawsuit reads.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which joined Vater’s lawsuit, agrees that states have the right to ban plates that are vulgar, defamatory or likely to incite violence. But the controversy has stirred questions over why a plate like “OINK” was rejected while “OINKS” and “OINKER” were both allowed.

Nearly 10 million vehicles across the United States have vanity plates – about 4 percent of all vehicles. Personalized plates are approved or rejected by motor vehicle department officials, some of whom are instructed to consult tools like UrbanDictionary.com when checking for sex and drug references.

Other lively license plate battles:

• Washington state rejected a license plate that read “GOTMILF,” which its owner claimed was not an “American Pie” reference and referred instead to a potentially made-up gizmo called “Manual Inline Lift Fluctuator”

• North Dakota and New Jersey have both faced flak for denying license plates that proclaim godlessness. (Among those rejected: “ATHIEST”/“ATHE1ST”/”8THIEST”)

• Tennessee, Colorado, Florida and Virginia have banned the license plate “ILVTOFU,” enflaming tofu-lovers and PETA-supporters everywhere.

• Ohio has banned plates that hate on Michigan sports teams, including “HATEMI,” “KILBLU” and “UMH8ER.”

• A New Mexico man won the battle to keep his “IB6UB9″ plate, which he insisted was referring to a poker joke and not a sex position.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
New Hampshire has voted. The Democrats debate on Thursday. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Philip Rucker and Robert Costa say...
For Trump, the victory here was sweet vindication, showing that his atypical campaign could prevail largely on the power of celebrity and saturation media coverage. But there was also potential for concern in Tuesday's outcome. Trump faces doubts about his discipline as a candidate and whether he can build his support beyond the levels he has shown in the polls.
The Post's John Wagner and Anne Gearan say...
Hillary Clinton, who was declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses last week by the narrowest of margins, now finds herself struggling to right her once-formidable campaign against a self-described democratic socialist whom she has accused of selling pipe dreams to his supporters.
Quoted
People have every right to be angry. But they're also hungry for solutions.
Hillary Clinton, in her New Hampshire primary night speech
Quoted
I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.
Donald Trump, in his New Hampshire primary victory speech
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
See results from N.H.
Most Read

politics

govbeat

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.