The great ICUHAJI debacle of ’13

| February 21, 2013

TSO wrote about Sean Bujno, the Iraq War veteran, last May in his quest to get ICUHAJI (That’s I see you, Haji) license plates in Virginia from the state because they thought it could be construed as offensive. Well, he won that case and was given his plates. But the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is taking another run at getting his plates from him;

In a letter to Mr. Bujno, DMV officials now claim the plate encourages violence and is vulgar, the AP reports.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Andrew Meyer, Mr. Bujno’s attorney, according to AP. “He really means it respectfully. Some might see [Haji] as a slur, but it’s not.”

Haji simply refers to someone who’s made the pilgrimage to Mecca, Mr. Meyer added, according to AP.

The matter is set for another hearing before DMV officials in March, according to AP. Mr. Meyer will argue a free-speech angle, AP says.

I see why he’s doing it, and it’s probably not for the reasons his lawyer says, but the state of Virginia is making it more of a battle against them.

Thanks to Old Trooper and Chief Tango for the link.

Category: Veterans Issues

Comments (25)

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  1. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    I really have nothing on this. I’m the idiot who wondered for months what the hell the bumper sticker GOAR MY meant.

  2. ComancheDoc says:

    I see CAIR and Co. crying foul if this is upheld…

  3. Ex-PH2 says:

    Exactly what is it that the VA DMV is afraid of?

    TSO, you bought Farscape? I am SO jealous. I don’t suppose you got Tripping the Rift, did you?

  4. MCPO NYC USN (Ret.) says:

    In a related story:

    NYS DMV won’t give me KISSMYROYALIRISHASS plates!

  5. NHSparky says:

    When states have the time and resources to fight battles like this MULTIPLE TIMES, you know they have too much money and time on their hands. Time to cut some shit back.

  6. David says:

    Saw 6UL DV8 in an old Car and Driver once…. can’t get it

  7. FatCircles0311 says:

    Today I learned the job of the DMV is to not offend other motorists unless they are in an office wanting to get something done.

  8. B Woodman says:

    Nanny state running rampant. Again. Still. Whatever.
    Give ’em hell, Mr Bujno. Shouldn’t matter WHY you want that particular plate. State requires you to have a plate for ID & tax purposes, they better give you the plate you want. No matter who it may offend in their own fevered entitlement minded imagination.

  9. B Woodman says:

    Oops. Forgot to add. Excellent article in today’s American Thinker on the Oprafication of America. Excellent example right here.

  10. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    @7. Ding! Ding! Ding!

  11. Hondo says:

    If the requested plate was clearly and unconditionally obscene or offensive (think George Carlin’s ” 7 Words You Can’t Say on television”) or an unambiguous ethnic slur (e.g., the n-word or a variant thereof), I could buy the DMV’s action here. But the term “haji” or “hadji” is both a religious honorific and a proper name. Seems to me that fact alone should invalidate the DMV’s position in this case.

  12. malclave says:

    Just tell them he’s a big fan of the old “Johnny Quest” cartoons.

  13. Rock8 says:

    I hate bureaucrats who think they know better than the citizenry they serve. These are OUR rights that we have temporarily allowed them to administer on our behalf. We have got to break them of the notion that they have a right to fuck with us when there are no grounds to do so.

    How about they let him keep his [court-ordered] plates and instead wait for someone to file a complaint? Then let those two work it out.

  14. Eric says:

    Funny, the amount of plates I’ve seen in California that are offensive is substantial. Ohhhh, but they are referring to the LBGT crowd’s ways and we can’t stop their rights, only people who do something “different” from that. (Though at Bragg I saw a plate that said: ICHOWBOX which was pretty funny I think, surprised it made the muster.)

    Right up there with so many other things. The government will spend millions to prove you owe them thousands or hundreds. “its the principle of the thing because its not MY money after all…”

    And from the amount of time I’ve spent in islamic countries listening to Joe’s say haji 100 times a day, I have a feeling I know what he’s talkin’ ’bout Willis…

    Sounds like he’s got a good lawyer though.

  15. fm2176 says:

    Years ago, VA DMV went to court over a person’s right to have ZYKLONB put on his plates. I think the DMV won that one for obvious reasons. I agree that if someone wants to pay the extra money for personalized tags, they should be allowed to put almost anything on them. Exceptions being obvious slurs, profanity, and other words that a majority would find offensive.

    Before I deployed I noticed a number of offensive stickers on cars (especially those sexual in nature). I figured maybe it was the Army’s SHARP certification making me soft in my old age, but when a 22-year-old 11B co-worker stated his disdain for them I realized that maybe someone needs to do something about it. I’m deployed now, but when I get back, if senior leaders and first-line supervisors haven’t stepped up their game I’ll be shaking things up a little. It’ll probably be unpopular, but hey, I don’t like fellow Soldiers displaying things that make all of us look ignorant.

    Displaying “shocker” stickers on POVs driven on and around major installations is one thing, though (and something I never saw at Campbell, around DC, Knox, or Benning). Winning a case in a civilian to display personalized tags, only to have DMV come after you again, is something else. Hopefully he wins this one as well. As for me, Virginia DMV will get my money for another nine years, then it’s time to transfer tags to the Pelican State.

  16. Hack Stone says:

    Virginia also has a fund raising plate with “KIDS FIRST” along the bottom of the plate. Last year, the VA DMV was in a similar pissing contest becuase some guy had the vanity plate reading “EAT THE” on his “KIDS FIRST” tag, so to the causal viewer, it would read “EAT THE KIDS FIRST”. Yep, they pulled his tag because someone was “offended”. I’m not sure how long that he had it, but it was for several years before someone decided they didn’t like it. A few months ago, I was driving on I-495 near Andrews AFB, and saw a tag reading “1NFECT”. Wouldn’t you know? As I got closer to the vehicle, it was a KIDS FIRST plate. You can expect me to file a complaint shortly.

  17. JA says:

    Some background on this case. He had previously asked for IKILLHAJI (or something really close, I can’t remember perfectly) so his claim that Hadji is being a used respectfully is a blatant lie. Rather disgusting dishonesty. Secondly, we all know what “I see you Hadji” means to any Iraq veteran.

    So, I Mr. B is not a very good person, terribly dishonest. The plates certainly carry a hint of menace. And VA actually has the right within a series of limits to control its plates.

    Why does this bother people?

  18. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    If he wants to wear a tee shirt with his message on it, he is free to do so. If he wants to adorn his car with bumper stickers bearing that message, he is free to so so. He can even strap a mini billboard to the roof of his car to proclaim the message. Hell, he can have the words taooed across his arms, chest, and forehead if he likes. It’s his choice of battle and, to me, it looks like he made a poor choice.

  19. Hondo says:

    JA: last time I checked, we had something that protects even most objectionable speech that doesn’t fall within one of several specific exceptions. I believe it’s called the “First Amendment”.

    The speech in question here is clearly not obscene, child porn, a false statement of fact (a reasonable person would not take it literally), speech owned by others, or commercial speech. It is no more a threat or an incitement to violence than a bumper sticker saying the same; it is similarly no more offensive than a bumper sticker saying the same. Both of those would be clearly lawful. And, frankly, it doesn’t appear to me to be clearly in the category of “fighting words”, either. It seems substantially less likely to provoke a violent reaction than burning the US flag or falsely claiming to be a “war hero” – both of which the SCOTUS has ruled to be permissible free speech.

    That pretty much exhausts the recognized exceptions under which free speech by private individuals may be lawfully restricted. This particular case doesn’t seem to fall into any of them.

    It thus appears that VA is engaging in content-based restriction of free speech rights that do not fall into one of the recognized exceptions. It also appears that VA is doing so for reasons of political correctness.

    I always find it objectionable when the First Amendment is restricted outside one of the specified exceptions. And I damn sure find the content-based restriction of free speech for political purposes by a government agency under these circumstances.

    And I’ll be damned if I want some nameless civil servant in a state DMV telling me what is and is not permissible speech under the First Amendment. When necessary, such decisions are the purview of the Federal Courts – not Federal or state bureaucracies under the control of the executive branch of their respective governments.

  20. Twist says:

    The best sticker I ever saw on a vehicle said “I still miss my ex-wife, but my aim is improving”.

  21. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    Hondo: Everything you said is correct–if one views the license place content as speech that enjoys 1st Amendment protection and, as such, is subject to strict scrutiny analysis. This would be a slam dunk, in my view, if that were the case. But (and this is the Big Butt) when a court employs a different analysis—asking, for instance, whether a license plate is a public forum and whether it is government speech or private speech– the answers turn the slam dunk into a rejected slapped into the bleachers.

  22. PintoNag says:

    My recommendation for this gentleman would be to get a bumperstick with whatever he wanted on it, and not waste money and time fighting the DMV over a plate. The plate is for registration of the vehicle, it’s not really meant to be a personal statement or a piece of art. You have to learn what’s worth fighting for and what isn’t, and a car plate simply isn’t.

  23. Hondo says:

    2/17 Air Cav: I’d buy that argument if VA didn’t expressly allow vanity plates that advocate various political points of view – clearly political speech. Specific examples include “AFL-CIO”, “Chose Life”, various environmental causes (“Clean Special Fuel”, “Ducks Unlimited”, others), child advocacy, energy lobbying (“Friends of Coal”), and a plethora of other special interests. Hell, they even have a GWOT plate – as well as plates for universities, a raft of fraternal organizations, professional sports teams, and the like.

    VA offers over 180 different categories of vanity plates. By doing this so broadly, they’ve essentially turned their license plates into billboards to raise extra $$$ for the state.

    Billboards are public fora.

    To me, this clearly implies that VA finds political advocacy and/or personal expression to be an acceptable form of speech for use on vanity license plates. Ergo, that means that in this case they are regulating categories of speech they have previously deemed acceptable based solely on content vice one of the recognized lawful reasons for restriction of free speech. If I recall correctly, Federal courts have historically taken a rather dim view of content-based restrictions on free speech outside those recognized exceptions, and sometimes even within.

    Finally, the courts – not some faceless, nameless executive-branch bureaucrat – are the proper agency to determine the bounds of such restrictions on Constitutional rights.

  24. Veritas Omnia Vincit says:

    Some court cases have upheld the view that vanity plates are a form of free speech and others have not, it depends on the court’s definition of what speech the vanity plates represent.

    A case in New Hampshire found that a gentleman who covered up “live free or die” with black tape could not be compelled to remove the tape because he was free to disagree with the state’s opinion as displayed on the plate. He was not covering up the identification numbers, just the slogan. In Virginia previously the Sons of the Confederacy were allowed to display the confederate flag on a vanity plate because the court felt the collection of fees allowed the purchaser the right to free speech, the dissenting judge felt that was an incorrect position because the display of the confederate flag on a Virgina plate whether vanity or not could be construed as being endorsed by the state, and in that dissenting opinion the judge opined it would in fact be considered as an endorsement from the state, and he argued that because Virginia had not exercised such control previously did not mean they did not have the right to do so and in his opinion the 4th circuit was wrong in their analysis.

    The external analysis of this case opined that if the neo nazis wished to display a swastika and were willing to get the necessary fees from 350 people to meet the government minimum purchase requirement the precedent set in allowing the confederate flag would then have to be applied to allowing the swastika to be displayed.

    It appears that the collection of fees is the primary purpose, and this would make this case fall into a free speech area. The simplest remedy for the state is to disallow any vanity plates, legally plates are required for the identification of the vehicle. If there is no option for accepting fees for vanity plates the issue is a non-starter. When politicians look for an easy money solution, such as vanity plates or even casinos, other unintended consequences often follow. The state is allowed to control content on any license plate that is issued solely for identification, if they issued the vanity plates through a non-fee based lottery system they could then also control the content because they would be the ultimate issuing authority.

    It seems to all come apart legally when a fee is accepted to place a personal message on a plate. There is a lesson here for legislators that I suspect they will not learn, as they seem quite unable to ascertain the lesson in so many other areas as well.

    For me personally it’s as objectionable as ICUJEW or ICUN1GG4….if you want to put such tripe on your bumper sticker that’s up to you, but a state authorized identifying tag should meet a higher standard and the legislators would be wise to consider that prior to authorizing something as stupid as a vanity plate.