An Arizona state senator is working to increase regulations on specialty license plates after the state’s “In God We Trust” plate was found to benefit an anti-LGBTQ organization that’s been deemed a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
State Sen. Juan Mendez (D) revealed that proceeds from sales of the specialty license plate support the Alliance Defending Freedom organization, a group known for supporting an evangelical baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple. The group also recently made news for representing a Christian charity that refused to allow a homeless transgender woman at its overnight shelter.
The Arizona Department of Transportation’s (ADOT) website does not mention that ADF is the beneficiary of the $25 plates. It states that “$17 goes to promote the national motto ‘In God We Trust.’”
Mendez, in two bills introduced last week, proposed not only eliminating the plate but requiring a public database that identifies all of the organizations that are financially supported by these specialty plates’ sales.
“Hopefully in the future we can put in place some commonsense guidelines that would bar hate groups from earning money through Arizona license plates,” Mendez said in a press release sent to The Arizona Republic. “State dollars should not be funding an organization that works to strip residents of our state of their human rights and human dignity. It’s appalling that we’ve already sent over a million dollars to this extremist hate group.”
SB 1462 would require a public database for the plates while SB 1463 would eliminate the ADF’s plate.
The Republic, citing ADOT records, said the ADF has received more than $900,000 from the specialty plates since 2014. This follows the plate’s approval by state lawmakers in 2008, though ADF was not identified as the beneficiary in the legislation.
Tory Roberg, the director of government affairs for the nonprofit Secular Coalition for Arizona, called how the plate was accepted disingenuous.
“The legislation establishing this license plate passed as a floor amendment with no discussion — there was no public awareness of what was happening or where the money was going,” she said in a statement. “People who choose the ‘In God We Trust’ plate never know that they’re sending money to ADF. It’s not on the ServiceArizona website, it’s not in the statute establishing the plate, it’s nowhere.”
Jeremy Tedesco, ADF’s senior counsel and vice president of U.S. advocacy, argued that the public has a right to support the organization, which he said supports people “from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds.”
“It’s disappointing to see elected officials become uncritical pawns in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s ugly propaganda campaigns,” he said in a statement to the Republic. “Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for the freedom of all Americans to peacefully live in accordance with their beliefs, including those with no belief.”
The SPLC’s website identifies the ADF as being “a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has linked homosexuality to pedophilia and claims that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society.”
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