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American Atheists Claims Victory for Removal of “In God We Trust” from Mississippi’s Standard License Plate

Jackson, Mississippi—Today, the church-state separation watchdog American Atheists claimed victory in its goal to remove mandatory “In God We Trust” language from Mississippi’s official license plate.

In June 2021, American Atheists filed a lawsuit against the state of Mississippi on behalf of the Mississippi Humanist Association and three nonreligious Mississippi residents, accusing Mississippi officials of violating nonreligious people’s freedoms of speech and religion by forcing them to display “In God We Trust” on their personal vehicles. On May 2 of this year, Mississippi officials released a new standard license plate design without this required religious message. As a result, American Atheists has withdrawn its federal lawsuit.

“Mississippi officials did exactly what we wanted—and more. We had simply asked that they make a free alternative license plate available for nonreligious Mississippians. But they went the extra mile and completely removed ‘In God We Trust’ from the upcoming 2024 design,” said Geoffrey T. Blackwell, Litigation Counsel for American Atheists. “Governor Reeves made the right decision and respected all Mississippians’ beliefs and rights with this new license plate. Mississippians will no longer be forced to act as billboards for the state’s preferred Christian message. This is a victory for free speech and religious freedom.”

The phrase “In God We Trust” is rooted in deep hostility toward atheists and members of minority religions. The phrase was first included on coins in the 1860s in order to “relieve [the U.S.] from the ignominy of heathenism,” according to Treasury Department records. In 1956, Congress enacted “In God We Trust” as the new national motto in order to differentiate the United States from the “godless” Soviets. Governor Tate Reeves himself has repeatedly expressed hostility toward atheists—both on social media and on television. In a 2019 commercial for his reelection campaign, he boasted about the “In God We Trust” license plate as he affixed one to a vehicle. In the video, Reeves equated this phrase with “Mississippi’s values,” insinuating that only Christians are real Mississippians.

“‘In God We Trust’ is a stain on our country’s history. For too long, politicians have used this religious message to portray non-Christians as insufficiently American,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists. “We are pleased that Governor Tate Reeves has seen the error of his ways and has discontinued the use of ‘In God We Trust’ on Mississippi license plates. The new magnolia-themed design is inclusive of all Mississippians—whether Christian, nonreligious, or a religious minority. This is a step in the right direction for Mississippi.”

Before the 2024 plate is available, American Atheists has secured protections for Mississippi drivers at the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. Judge Carlton W. Reeves ruled in March of this year that, in the meantime, drivers may cover up “In God We Trust” on their license plates so long as they don’t obscure the letters and numbers that identify their vehicles.

“If you’d like to take a black marker to ‘In God We Trust’ and scribble it out, you may legally do so in the state of Mississippi,” said Blackwell. He encourages any driver who is pulled over, harassed, or faces discrimination as a result to report the incident to American Atheists. The civil rights organization is prepared to take legal action on behalf of constituents.

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