Commentary: S.C. AG McMasters is pandering with "I Believe" outrage

The ink was barely dry on a ruling by U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie saying the state's "I Believe" license plates are unconstitutional when state Attorney General Henry McMaster released a video decrying the ruling as the action of a liberal federal judiciary.

McMaster singled out the American Civil Liberties Union, which wasn't involved in the license plate case, saying he has told town councils and others around the state: "If the ACLU sues you, call me up. We'll defend you. We'll help you."

He might have been more forthcoming if he had said: "We'll help you waste taxpayers' money on a hopeless, ill-conceived effort to defy the Constitution."

That's exactly what McMaster did in the case of the Chester County town of Great Falls, which was sued by a local Wiccan over its town council prayers. A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004 prohibited the Great Falls Town Council from opening its meetings with a prayer that mentions Jesus Christ.

McMaster filed a brief in the case, and the town appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear it. In the end, the town amassed tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs, all borne by the taxpayers, on a case that had no merit whatsoever.

The state's case involving the "I Believe" license plates was nearly as frivolous. It also was expensive, as specifically noted by Judge Currie, who ordered the state to pay the legal expenses for both sides in the case.

The legal challenge of the "I Believe" tags came about after the General Assembly voted to authorize production of a state license plate featuring a large cross against a stained-glass window and the words, "I Believe." Judge Currie ruled that the license plate "amounts to state endorsement not only of religion in general, but of a specific sect in particular."

She also addressed the pivotal role played by Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who originally pushed for the Christian license plate after an effort to create a similar "I Believe" tag failed in Florida.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Rock Hill Herald.