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Adoption-oriented license plates draw ACLU threat in Louisiana

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BATON ROUGE, La. (BP)–A specialty license plate bearing the words “Choose Life” and depicting a pelican carrying a baby wrapped in a blanket may soon be the target of a lawsuit filed by the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, CNSNews.com reported July 26.

The “Choose Life” license plate, featuring Louisiana’s state bird, was approved unanimously by both the Louisiana House and Senate in 1999 and signed into law by Republican Governor Mike Foster, CNSNews.com, a Washington-based Internet news site, recounted.

People who buy the license plates pay the $3.50 cost of the plate (a cost paid for all license plates) plus an additional $25 charge for the specialty design, money that is collected by the state treasury.

An advisory council, also established under the Louisiana law, then recommends the awarding of grants to private adoption advocacy groups. The money must be targeted to help women who have a crisis pregnancy. The help can be financial, medical or emotional/spiritual.

The advisory council itself includes representatives from several conservative groups, such as the American Family Association, the Louisiana Family Forum and Concerned Women for America.

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Kathleen Benfield of the American Family Association in New Orleans made it clear that the “money never touches the advisory board.”

“This plate cost the state nothing, and any money that goes to these agencies will be money donated by individuals who voluntarily choose to buy this plate. No money that goes to these agencies will be any state funds,” Benfield told CNSNews.com.

It took a year to come to the attention of the ACLU because, according to Joe Cook, director of its Louisiana chapter, “We saw the title [of the bill] and said, ‘Oh, more stupid license plate legislation.'”

Cook insists the state is conveying a political message with the “Choose Life” license plate.

“This license plate entangles the state with religion,” Cook told CNSNews.com. “Political slogans and positions on abortion belong on bumper stickers, not on state issued vehicle tags. Abortion is one of the most divisive public issues in our state today, producing passionate debate, little compromise, lack of civility and even violence.”

Both Benfield and Louisiana State Rep. Shirley Bowler, the original sponsor of the bill, pointed out there are other specialty license plates with political messages.

“The black bear plate … that’s an environmentalist versus landowners issue, and you can’t tell me that’s not political,” Bowler told CNSNews.com. “I don’t see it [‘Choose Life’] entangling the state with religion at all. I think that adoption is good public policy, and that’s basically what this license plate promotes.”

Benfield said “the furor, over this plate, calls attention to the fact that those who call themselves pro-choice are really only for choice as long as that choice is abortion.

Bowler agreed that to some extent the ACLU’s Cook is right about the license plate being about abortion because “the antithesis of abortion would be adoption. We’re talking about two different ways of dealing with a crisis pregnancy.”
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Groover is a correspondent for CNSNews.com. Used by permission.