North Carolina

‘In God We Trust’ now an option on your next North Carolina license plate

North Carolina now offers a third standard license plate that bears the national and state mottos instead of “First in Flight” or “First in Freedom.”
North Carolina now offers a third standard license plate that bears the national and state mottos instead of “First in Flight” or “First in Freedom.” NCDMV

North Carolinians can now get a standard license plate for their cars or trucks that bears the phrase “In God We Trust.”

The state Division of Motor Vehicles on Monday began offering a third standard plate that includes the national and state mottos instead of “First in Flight” or “First in Freedom.” The plate has the national motto, “In God We Trust,” at the top and an English translation of the state’s motto, “Esse quam videri” — “To Be Rather Than To Seem” — in italics at the bottom.

The DMV has offered a specialty license plate with In God We Trust for several years, but at a cost of $30 a year on top of the standard annual registration fee. Two-thirds of that extra fee goes to support the National Guard Soldiers and Airmen Assistance Fund, which works to help North Carolina Guard members and their families.

Former Rep. Bert Jones introduced a bill last year to make In God We Trust an option for everyone at no extra charge. Jones, a Republican from Reidsville who did not seek re-election last year, said at the time that many North Carolinians had seen the motto on other state license plates and would like it on theirs as well.

Jones’ bill did not go far, but his language establishing the new plates was included in the state budget approved in June 2018.

The Board of Commissioners in Alamance County, North Carolina voted to display the phrase “In God We Trust” bumper stickers on all county vehicles.

Another bill introduced by Jones last year would have required that In God We Trust and To Be Rather Than to Seem be posted in a prominent place in all North Carolina public schools. It passed the House, but did not make it out of a Senate committee.

The American Civil Liberties Union spoke out against the schools bill, saying it risked making some students feel less welcome. But the ACLU has stopped short of opposing the optional In God We Trust license plate.

“We hope the same lawmakers who supported the creation of this plate will also support requests to create plates that express the views of people with different or no religious beliefs,” spokesman Mike Meno said in an email.

Car or truck owners can opt for the new mottos plate when they renew their annual vehicle registration. For those who can’t wait that long, the DMV will charge $20 for the plate. For more information, go to www.ncdot.gov/dmv.

In God We Trust became the national motto in 1956, during the Cold War, when Congress unanimously passed a resolution to answer the official atheism of the Soviet Union. North Carolina adopted the Latin version of its motto in 1893, when it was added to the state seal.

“First in Flight” has appeared on North Carolina license plates since the early 1980s, to commemorate the Wright brothers flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. The state considered including the phrase First in Freedom, a reference to the state’s involvement in the American Revolution, on its plates around the nation’s Bicentennial in the 1970s, but the legislature didn’t make it an option until 2015.

The In God We Trust specialty plate, which also features the head of a bald eagle, is still available for $30 a year. It has generated about $80,000 a year to the National Guard Soldiers and Airmen Assistance Fund, which is about a third of the fund’s budget.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.
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