Kentucky DMV to Dentist: Ditch 'Pray 4' Vanity License Plate or Lose Your Registration

*UPDATE: 1:03 p.m. EDT—* The Department of Vehicle Regulations issued a statement to Newsweek admitting to making an error in the interpretation of the statute over personalized license plates, and added that they would let Dr. Burton keep "PRAY4."  

Statement: The Department of Vehicle Regulations’ interpretation of the statute for Dr. Burton’s personalized license plate resulted in an incorrect preliminary determination to reject her request. We are working with her to reissue her plate.

 

When Susi Burton is zipping around Lexington, Kentucky, in her Red Claret Mica Lexus GX, she's convinced fellow motorists get plucked by the agrarian-themed license plate, fit with two quails perched beside white capital letters that read: "PRAY4."

"If you're troubled by something and you get behind me on the road and you see, 'PRAY4,' you may think to do that," she told Newsweek. "It jogs the memory to let people know they can pray for something. It's a reminder."

The dentist is a kind of four-wheeled shepherd who moons over the "lake theme" license plate that she says has drawn nothing but praise for almost a decade. 

"I've had many people make compliments," she mused. 

But now the Commonwealth of Kentucky is coming for her plate. 

Last week, Burton said she received a stern letter, which she shared with Newsweek, from the Transportation Cabinet warning her that her personalized plate "has been rejected" for failing to meet an array of requirements.

It cited in numerous codes that were light on specifics.

But the terms were less ambiguous.

"This plate must be returned to the Fayette County Clerk's office within 20 days from the date of this letter," it read. "Failure to do so will result in the cancellation of your vehicle registration.”

At first, the 66-year-old woman thought the letter was a fake.

“Oh my goodness, I asked myself, ‘Is this a prank?’” she asked herself at the time. “I am just blown out the window.”

A Transportation Cabinet spokesman confirmed to Newsweek that he was aware of the matter and said that the agency was in the process of issuing a response. 

She emailed a response to verify the letter’s authenticity.

A Transportation Cabinet representative responded in a Wednesday e-mail confirming “it is not fraudulent.”

In a separate email the same day, the representative also added: “Personalized plates are reviewed throughout the year by our office. If we find that they don't meet the statute and regulation, we send these letters.”

That statute refers to KRS 186.164, a law forbidding personalized plates from discriminating, politicalizing and, most importantly, promoting “any specific faith, religion or anti-religion.”

The law was put to the test two years ago when an Ohio man who moved to Kentucky tried to transfer over his license plate “IM GOD” and was denied. 

He filed a lawsuit claiming the laws were going “overbroad” and “suppressed his protected speech.” 

A federal judge disagreed and tossed the case, citing its claim that if they believe a license plate is “offensive to good taste and decency” it may be recalled. 

'PRAY 4' license plate Dentist Susi Burton wants to fight the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet after receiving a letter informing her that she has 20 days to forfeit her vanity license plate with the slogan "PRAY4" or her car registration will be canceled. Dr. Susan Burton
The dentist, who worships at the local Salvation Army Church and teaches Vacation Bible School when she's not drilling holes or cleaning teeth, is priming for a fight. 

"I want to keep it," she said. "It's my plate."

Burton said she sprung for the "less than $100" fee to personalize the coveted license plate eight years ago. 

"PRAY" was taken, as was "PRAY1", "PRAY2" and "PRAY3."

She said that while she may be religious, the license plate is not meant to be about religion. 

“My thing is that people pray for a lot of stuff,” she said. “How many people go to ball games and pray for that man to make that basket. There’s got to be more prayers at ball games than there are at church.”

And the ultimatum to fork over her plate or lose her driving privileges is too much for Burton. 

“This is vicious,” she said. “This makes me out to be some kind of criminal.”

Undaunted, the dentist said that while she refuses to turn in the physical plate, she is conjuring some workarounds. 

“I have put some thought about it, and I think I could put the letters in reverse or I could do a foreign language."

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