People’s Baptist Church in Greer opened its doors Jan. 6 to an overflow crowd of more than 400 people who turned out to support the “I Believe” license plate after a federal judge stopped production and distribution of the tag on Dec. 11.
Arnold Hiette, pastor of People’s Baptist, organized the event, which saw people standing in the foyer and sitting in the aisles and choir loft. “It was okay to put ‘I Believe’ on a license plate,” Hiette said. “The thing that caused the firestorm was the cross. That cross represents our Lord and the sacrifice he made of his blood for us.”
Judge Cameron McGowan Currie heard the case, entered by Barry Lynn and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The complaint in Summers v. Adams charged that the plate gives preferential governmental treatment to one particular faith. It asks the court to prevent South Carolina officials from producing them. Judge Currie agreed with the Summers group, and issued an injunction.
Also present at the rally were Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and state attorney general Henry McMaster. Bauer first introduced legislation allowing the plate. “There is free speech for every group in this state besides Christians,” Bauer said. “Every citizen has the right to free speech in this country. I don’t understand why witnessing in public is considered unconstitutional. You don’t even have to be a Christian to believe everyone deserves the freedom of speech.”
Bauer said that the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry have a tag with the slogan, “In Reason We Trust,” which has been purchased by 104 people. “When a secular group can get a license plate and nobody challenges it, but Christians can’t, there’s a problem in the system,” Bauer said. “Quite frankly, we’re under attack.”
Kevin Hall, a trial attorney who is donating his services in support of the “I Believe” license plate, said the country is being swept in a radical movement where freedom of religion is construed by some to be freedom from religion. Hall said that he, along with Bauer and McMaster, will continue to battle the Dec. 11 ruling in the courts.
McMaster echoed the sentiments of the evening. “The courts eventually will see it our way, but we have to do our part,” McMaster said. “We have to stand tall. We have to persevere. The people will prevail.”
“When God puts his people together to speak together for a cause, that speaks volumes,” said Hiette.
Mack is director of the Office of Public Policy for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.