An Army veteran is suing the state of Michigan for denying his request for a vanity license plate that says "infidel."
Michael Matwyuk, 57, was an Army sergeant who served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 with an engineer detachment, the Army Times reported. He said he and his fellow troops often were called "infidel" by insurgents as an insult.
“We embraced it, we joked about it, we laughed about it, we called each other ‘infidel,’” Matwyuk told the Army Times. “We’re infidels, we’re absolutely that and we were there who did not subscribe to the doctrine or belief system [the enemy] was trying to impose. We don’t subscribe to terrorism, Shariah law and oppression. We are champions of freedom, and if that makes us infidels good for me and good for the rest of us.”
But when Matwyuk tried to get a shortened form of "infidel" printed on a license plate in Michigan, the state turned him down because it was deemed offensive, Detroit's WWJ-TV reported. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on his behalf, arguing a violation of Matwyuk's First Amendment rights.
“A message on a vanity license plate may be brief, but that doesn’t mean there are fewer constitutional protections,” Dan Korobkin with the Michigan ACLU said in a statement. “The ‘good taste and decency’ standard can be interpreted at the whim of officials in charge at any given moment and therefore it’s anybody’s guess what message will survive the review process."
Korobkin added, “This subjectivity is exactly what our First Amendment was designed to guard against.”
Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the state, told WWJ he could not comment specifically on the lawsuit.
"We believe we have a well-established, longstanding process that balances a person’s desire to express themselves with the departments obligation, under state law, to not allow plates that may be considered offensive,” Woodhams said.