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Provo • It began with the voice of one 11-year-old. Now a campaign is under way to gain 500 more Utahns who favor the idea of an "In God We Trust" specialty license plate.

State legislators, board members for the Provo-based America's Freedom Festival, and Mike Mower, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert, gathered Tuesday in Provo to unveil the new plate.

The project was the brainchild of Mower's 11-year-old nephew, Tate Christensen, who is an avid motorcycle license-plate collector.

He bought an "In God We Trust" license plate from Indiana for his collection on eBay recently. After the purchase, he was surprised to find that Utah doesn't yet have a plate with the same message. He discovered more than a dozen other states have license plates with the slogan on it or a similar "God Bless America" tag.

So Christensen asked his uncle, who works in the governor's office, to work on expanding Utah's specialty license plate offerings. Mower then spoke with Evan Curtis in the state Office of Planning and Budget, and on his own time Curtis designed the "In God We Trust" sticker for the new plate.

The design, adorned with an American flag, is exciting for Christensen, he said.

"Now we have a chance to have this cool slogan," he said.

For the plate to move into production, 500 pre-orders are needed.

State Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, plan to sponsor legislation in the coming session to make the plate official.

Weiler acknowledges that the plate idea may make some people wonder if the initiative is legal or if it borders on mixing church and state.

"The most common question we got asked is 'Can we do that, is that legal?'" said Weiler, an attorney, who believes the idea doesn't infringe upon the separation of church and government.

He said so far, he hasn't received complaints from those concerned that the plates go too far in endorsing religious beliefs.

John Mejia, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, said as long as the state is making the plate optional and doesn't discriminate against others who may seek a different kind of specialty plate, he doesn't see any civil rights issues emerging.

"As long as people understand this is not the state promoting a religion, I don't think there is a problem with it," Mejia said. "We believe in free speech."

Dan Ellis, president of Atheists of Utah, said while he's not in favor of the plate's message, he doesn't object to the overall idea.

"While I obviously disagree with the plate's sentiment and think there are far more important issues our state Legislature ought to be addressing, I see no problem with the license plate being provided as an option for those who wish to fork over their hard-earned money as a display of their faith," he said.

He questioned whether other religions would receive the same reception for a specialty license plate.

"I am left wondering, though, how receptive deputy chief of staff Mower would be if I proposed an Atheists of Utah logo plate. Would he work just as hard to ensure that our members are allowed to proudly display their lack of faith via a state-issued license plate?"

The plate's sponsor, America's Freedom Foundation chairman David A. McDougal, said he's proud that his organization is able to support the plates.

"At a time when so many people are ignoring 'In God We Trust,' we are glad to add it and support it," he said.

McDougal said those interested in purchasing the plates can visit to fill out necessary paperwork. Cost for the plates is $43. He said he is optimistic that 500 people will pre-order the plates, allowing the idea to move to the Legislature for approval later this year. The earliest the plates could go on cars wouldn't be until after the legislative session when a proposed specialty license-plate bill is passed.

Christensen said he is shocked to see that what started as a simple question for his uncle has resulted in so much action.

"I'm surprised that this has gotten this far," he said. "I would really love to see these on the road."


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