Irreverent car owners are currently fighting a losing battle with propriety-minded bureaucrats in Maine—and one unsuspecting vegan has found himself in the crosshairs.
Up until 2015, Maine’s secretary of state could veto a vanity license plate request if it featured anything “obscene, contemptuous, profane, or prejudicial.” But then lawmakers did away with that particular restriction, kickstarting a golden age of inappropriate plates in the Pine Tree State. The tide began to change in 2021, when newly appointed Secretary of State Shenna Bellows made it her mission to clean up the language on Maine’s roads without treading on anyone’s constitutional rights.
“The First Amendment protects your right to have any bumper sticker you want, but it doesn’t force the state to issue you a registration plate that subjects every child in your neighborhood to a message the government wouldn’t allow them to see in a movie theater,” Bellows said in a 2021 address to the state legislature’s transportation committee.
Her rationale won out, leading to legislation that now allows Maine’s secretary of state to veto or even recall a vanity plate that “is profane or obscene,” “connotes genitalia or relates to sexual acts,” or “makes a derogatory reference” to any number of protected classes, among other restrictions.
Recently, as the Associated Press reports, 274 plates were recalled for violating the new terms—including “LUVTOFU,” which owner Peter Starostecki said is simply his “protest against eating meat and animal products.” The claim that the plate is an innocent tribute to bean curd rather than a sexual reference is supported by the fact that Starostecki’s vehicle also sports multiple tofu-centric bumper stickers.
Heather Libby, on the other hand, wasn’t trying to promote any specific ideology when she purchased a vanity plate that contained the word b***h: She and her best friend just wanted to get matching plates for fun.
Libby and Starostecki were two of only 13 offending plate owners who appealed their recalls, but neither they nor any of the other appellants were successful. (No one has yet tried to elevate their case to the Supreme Court, which is technically an option.) Instead, Libby ordered a new plate containing her dog’s name, Zeus. And Starostecki is getting out of the vanity plate game altogether, even turning down an offer to replace LUVTOFU with V3GAN. The reach of his animal-friendly evangelizing will now rest on the strength of his bumper stickers alone.
[h/t Associated Press]