License Plates in Arizona Saying 'In God We Trust' Found to Fund and Support Anti LGBT Group

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Phoenix commuters drive on the I-10 Freeway during the morning commute to work April 5, 2005, in Phoenix. An Arizona state senator has shone a light on how the sales of 'In God We Trust' specialty license plates are being funneled into an organization branded a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Jeff Topping/Getty

An Arizona lawmaker has shone a light on how the sale of specialty license plates sold through the state's transportation department has been helping fund an anti-LGBT organization branded an "extremist hate group."

Democratic State Senator Juan Mendez brought the issue to light as he proposed legislation that would prevent proceeds from the state's "In God We Trust" license plates, which are offered through the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) as per state law, from continuing to go the Alliance Defending Freedom.

The ADF has said its mission is to "keep the doors open for the Gospel by advocating religious liberty, the sanctity of life and marriage and family." However, the Southern Poverty Law Center has has called the organization a "hate group" since 2016 because of the anti-LGBT views it promotes.

"Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad," the SPLC says on its website. It also accuses the ADF of having "defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad" and having "linked homosexuality to pedophilia and claims that a 'homosexual agenda' will destroy Christianity and society."

The ADF had also been "one of the most influential groups" to provide guidance to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in what the law center called the Trump administration's "attack on LGBT rights," the SPLC adds.

In a statement to The Arizona Republic, ADF senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco rejected the "hate group" label, telling the newspaper that the group "advocates for the freedom of all Americans to live peacefully in accordance with their beliefs, including those with no belief."

"It's disappointing to see elected officials become uncritical pawns in the Southern Poverty Law Center's ugly propaganda campaigns," he said.

Mendez, however, appears to believe the designation is accurate, with the state senator reportedly introducing two bills to prevent a single dollar more going toward the ADF, which has already received more than $900,000 from the sale of the specialty license plates since 2014, according to the Republic.

One bill aims to get rid of the "In God We Trust" plates altogether and the other seeks to ensure greater transparency from the Arizona transportation department around which organizations benefit from the sale of specialty plates.

"State dollars should not be funding an organization that works to strip residents of our state of their human rights and human dignity," Mendez said, according to the Republic. "It's appalling that we've already sent over a million dollars to this extremist hate group."

In a statement sent to Newsweek, Arizona Department of Transportation spokesperson Douglas Nick said the claim that state dollars are being used to fund the ADF is not accurate.

"These are not appropriated state dollars in question here," Nick said. "Specialty plates are paid for by consumers. If someone wants an 'In God We Trust' plate, an Arizona state University scholarship plate, a Special Olympics plate or any one of several dozen other specialty plates, it is the consumer, not the taxpayers of Arizona who pay for that plate."

"Of the $25 charged for a typical specialty plate, $17 goes to the receiving entity and $8 is used for ADOT administrative purposes, such as the cost of the physical plate itself," said.

The ADOT spokesperson also made clear that the department "makes no decisions whatsoever about who obtains funding from specialty plates."

"These plates are established by state law, not agency policy," he said of the "In God We Trust" plates.

According to Nick, state law stipulates that the nonprofit entity that raises the initial $32,000 cost to have a specialty plate designed "shall receive the funds derived from the sale of those plates." "In this case, that's the Alliance Defence Fund," he said.

"In sum, ADOT makes plates available upon the direction of state law and disburses the funds in accordance with the law," Nick said. "Should the laws be adjusted, our agency acts accordingly."

This article has been updated with a statement from Arizona Department of Transportation spokesperson Douglas Nick.