— A "FKGAS" license plate in Rhode Island is allegedly "offensive to good taste and decency," a claim that caused a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a Tesla owner.
Tesla driver Sean M. Carroll requested and received a special courtesy (vanity) Rhode Island license plate with the letters FKGAS for "expression to convey a philosophical and political message regarding his political and environmental views."
Carroll says he supports policies to improve the environment and even installed solar panels on his house for clean energy. The plaintiff says he told his daughter the Tesla vehicle could be charged with energy from the solar panels, and his daughter allegedly said it was like "fake gas."
He received the plate in August 2019, but in February 2020, the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) sent Carroll a letter concerning someone who filed a complaint about the FKGAS license plate.
According to the letter, the administrator of the DMV determined the plate had to be returned because it was “inappropriate and/or offensive.” The plaintiff was told the registration for his car would be cancelled if the plate wasn't returned.
"Plaintiff maintains that Defendant's attempt to revoke the issuance of the license plate by threatening to revoke the registration of Plaintiff’s automobile constitutes an improper viewpoint and content-based restriction on his speech that neither serves a compelling governmental interest nor is narrowly tailored to achieve any valid governmental interest." - Lawsuit
According to the ACLU, the provision Rhode Island attempts to enforce concerning license plates that “might carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency” and the standard set forth in the letter, “inappropriate and/or offensive,” are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.
The lawsuit also alleges the DMV has approved numerous vanity plates but is allegedly arbitrarily enforcing the statute concerning the FKGAS plate.
Under Rhode Island law, vanity license plates may consist of no more than six letters and numbers and no less than two letters, but the DMV administrator, “shall, in his or her discretion, refuse to issue any letter or combination of letters and numbers that might carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency.”
The DMV allegedly says some vanity plates won't be approved, including AIDS, CHRIST, CHUBBY, DIABLO, DOOBIE, DRUNK, GAY, GUN, HAJJI, HELL, HOOSIER, JESUS, JOCKY, LESBIAN, REDNECK, SLOB, TROLL and YANKEE.
But the ACLU says other vanity plates have been approved for use by drivers, including DOGDOO, FACIAL, FATTY, FCCING, FKNFST, FKS, FLSHR8, FRELOV, FRIAR, FUBAR, HEAVEN, GUNS, JEWISH, NEAT, OLDFRT, PISTL, REDNEC, REDNEK, REDNK, SABER, SKCK, SNAFU and TIPSY.
"In other words, Defendant bans as 'offensive to good taste and decency' the license plate CHUBBY but not FATTY; DRUNK but not TIPSY; HAJJI and HELL, but not HEAVEN or JEWISH; GUN but not GUNS or PISTL or SABER; HOOSIER but not FRIAR; REDNECK, but not REDNEK, REDNK OR REDNEC; and SLOB but not NEAT." - ACLU
In addition, the lawsuit alleges the Rhode Island DMV has approved and issued standard license plates that contained the letters FK or FU followed by three numbers.
According to the ACLU, the Rhode Island General Assembly has set forth the grounds upon which the DMV can refuse to register an automobile, but none of those grounds includes an “inappropriate and/or offensive” license plate.
The FKGAS license plate lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island: Sean M. Carroll vs. Walter R. Craddock, In Official Capacity as Administrator of The Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles.