Saturday, January 21, 2006

Free Speech?

Pasted below is the actual transcript regarding my visit to the DMV yesterday. My question is: does their displaying messages of their choice fall under "free speech," or discrimination? Even if they aren't directly a government entity, they represent such. Although some might think I'm overreacting by reading my description, you need only experience the wall of stupid license plates in their office to see that I really toned it down in this letter. Here you go folks:

Sent By: EleniDate/Time: 1/19/2006 7:20:10 PM

Hello there,
I went to register my vehicle today at your Club Boulevard location in Durham. I must note that your staff are very friendly. However, as I waited in line, I grew increasingly disturbed at the messages the vanity plates promoted. I have found Durham to be a wonderfully diverse city, full of contrasting viewpoints, various religious and non-religious persuasions, richly varied lifestyles, and kind people. Unlike this description, the license plates for sale said otherwise and were quite offensive. They preached the following (if you think I'm exaggerating go check it out):
* Misogyny / Objectification of women (references to driving only with blondes, brunettes, or red heds, a playboy bunny, etc)
* Intolerance (a plate about how marriage is between a man and a woman - I would feel pretty uncomfortable as a homosexual having that plate stare at me from behind the counter while I conduct my supposedly neutral registration business)
*Killing (many pro-hunting plates, even one that says to kill more possums - just the type of message we all need - killing?!)
* One religion: Christianity (Jesus is the "only" answer, God this and that, etc.)
Please consider either diversifying your plate selection (I saw nothing from the list you provide here on your website) or not promoting hatred. I don't know to whom I'm writing, so I can either assume you think I'm taking this too seriously or that diversity doesn't matter. But I hope you can understand you cater to a wide audience, and I don't want my money going toward causes that are inconsistent with compassion and acceptance of others. Thank you for your time. Feel free to contact me if I can do something to assist in this matter. I intend to pursue this through our news media if this issue cannot be resolved otherwise.

Their response:

I have discussed this matter with the Administrator here at DMV that handles branch office matters. The branch agencies are contracted by DMV to handle tag and title transactions. They are not state offices and are not run by state employees. These agencies are privately owned and run. They basically can sell anything in those offices because they are a private business. Example, there are branch agencies that sell make up, furniture, etc. There are other agencies that sell these same type license plates. These privately run agencies are trying to make money any way that they can just like any other privately run operation. DMV has no control over what they are selling in these offices. These plates that they are selling are not endorsed or promoted by the Division of Motor Vehicles in any way. We apologize for any uncomfortable situations that this may cause. Please let me know if I can further assist you in any way.

Customer Contact Center


Asa said...

Interesting. The DMV is a monopoly, apparently privately-owned, but a monopoly nonetheless. Where else can you go to get your vehicle registered? You have no other choice so you are subjected to the messages despite not wanting to be. Normally, if you didn't like how a business is run or you didn't like the stuff in their store you could go somewhere else. Hence, in this case there is an argument to be made that the state should set guidelines for what the individual outlets can sell. These guidelines should respect the views of all patrons, similar to anti-discrimation laws already in place in other areas of the state.

I applaud you for taking the time to point out the offensiveness of their signs. Over time if more people complain, they just might change. But then again, we're talking about the DMV here, so don't expect anything to happen too quickly.

Laki said...

Wow, that's pretty crazy Butthead. I'm not suprised that you wrote such an articulate complaint to the DMV, but I am kind of suprised that they responded pretty nicely (even if it wasn't the answer you may have wanted). At least there weren't any license plates that said Do you believe in Vampires? (Read my blog about that one...)

Neutral Lippy said...

I applaud you as well. It is sad that some parts of our country still discriminate.

ZenLy said...

I hate to say it, but I think that it probably does fall under the category of Free Speech. And since it's a capitalist/free market, as long as it's legal, they have a right to sell whatever they want. Although, since it is a government agency it seems like there should be some sort of "separation of church & state", at least as far as the religious signs go.
Perhaps another business opp for Elly's? The Progressive DMV: Liberal license plate frames with a scoop of soy ice cream while you wait!

Binge Cafe said...

Funny Ly, I was thinking I would "suggest" some "alternative" plates...
Maybe the unbiased "Go Vegan!" or the happy standard "Meat is Murder." We'll make millions!

Autumn said...

This kind of issue is exactly why the good ol' boys of this red state refer to us as "damn yankees" and like to tell us to go back where we came from. How dare you introduce silly, liberal, open-minded views into conservative redneck country? It's bad enough we came down here and forced them to stop slavery, insisted upon the idea of civil rights, and even made them integrate the schools, but now this nonsense about women, gay people, and other groups deserving respect too?! Attitudes here in the south--where the confederate flag is still flown with pride-- are slow to change, but don't stop trying! It'll happen eventually.

ZenLy said...

Yeah, it's like my former manager from Applebee's used to say to me: "SwLy, you'll never change the world. But I hope you'll never stop trying."

Anonymous said...

yeah, im sick of the driving record hassles too, so i checked this out driving record

Blaze said...

The sign at the road says "North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles". The entry in the phone book says "North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles". They represent themselves with the authority of the State. Right or wrong, every indicator shows that this office is part of the State of NC and the people who work there are State employees. As the law asks, "Would a reasonable person think this office was part of the State of NC?" Yes. Their "it's a contractor" response is bogus. (Unfortunately, this sort of hypocrisy abounds, especially for us Atheists...the last minority.) All of us know, if the NC DMV had only vanity plates that praised Allah or Satan, the Separation of Church and State rules would quickly be enforced. They are lying to themselves and to us; they are hypocrites and it is up to us to show them their bias. So, this person says that's it ok for this site, as a contractor, to sell ANYTHING legal that see fit? There is No Way that she really means that. (e.g. vibrators and dildos, radar detectors, bongs) If the State wanted to, they could end this hatred and bigotry today.

Wayne Aiken said...

I've also looked into this issue, and there isn't much that can be done, legally. It is true that the agency itself is a private entity that contracts with the DMV to offer this service, and they can do whatever else they want on the premises.

Perhaps the most we can ask for, is that this agency make explicit note that it is a private business and NOT the actual DMV itself-- prior comments are very correct about that-- they do hold themselves out as a governmental entity, and a reasonable person would think that their ancillary products are likewise endorsed by the state.

I'm as much of a free-market supporter as anyone, but this looks clearly like a case where the difference between the state and private business is being blurred. But, our only recourse might be some "this is a private business" sign.

I'd like to see a DMV registration station in an adult bookstore. I wonder if it would also receive an official sign outside, and I wonder how many people would complain about that?