Freedom of expression vital to Christians
Years ago, I had a sticker on the dashboard of my 1972 Nova that read, “Warning: In Case of Rapture, Driver Will Disappear.” When I picked up a hitchhiker one day, he asked what it meant. I told him that I believed, as stated in the Bible, that part of Jesus’ eventual return to Earth would involve deceased Christians being raised from the dead and living believers being “caught up” to “meet the Lord in the air” (I Thessalonians 4:17). Many Christians referred to the latter as “the Rapture.”
My passenger’s eyes widened a bit and he muttered something like, “Far out.” But he was not so alarmed by the prospect of riding in a driverless car that he asked to get out. We arrived
Whether signs and stickers are effective evangelism tools is debatable. For instance, I wonder if those yard signs you see pronouncing damnation on unbelievers have ever persuaded anyone to turn to Christ. But in most cases, the signs and stickers are genuine expressions of a person’s faith.
In 2004, when Shawn Byrne of West Rutland, VT, went to renew his car’s license plate, he filled out an application for a “vanity plate” to read, “JN36TN,” referring to John 3:16, the classic Bible passage about God’s love for the world. According to the Associated Press, Vermont officials rejected Byrne’s application because it violated a state rule against religious inscriptions on license plates.
Byrne lost his first appeal in federal court, but the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in New York recently overturned that ruling.
“The state rejected Byrne’s message only because it addressed ... areas of otherwise permissible expression from a religious perspective,” the judges wrote. “This the state cannot do.” AP allows its residents to express themselves about personal philosophy and taste and to put inspirational messages and statements of affiliation on their license plates.” It agreed with Byrne, who said his plate would have been approved if he had told the state its message meant his name was John, a 36-year-old who was born in Tennessee.
The court said Vermont could still prohibit “vanity plate” messages that refer to illegal drugs or are racially or sexually offensive.
So Byrne can have his “JN36TN” license plate after all. It probably will elicit no more from other motorists than scratching of heads; I doubt it will convert anyone to Christ. And the extra money Byrne paid for it might better have been used to support a church or other Christian ministry. But his right to express himself on an equal basis with others is clear. That freedom is vital to American Christians who want their ideas included in the mix of ideas that compete for