License plate fight nets ‘Muzzle’ award - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

License plate fight nets ‘Muzzle’ award

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Posted: Monday, April 19, 2004 10:10 am | Updated: 5:04 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

A free-speech group has issued a censorship "award" to the Arizona License Plate Commission for refusing to issue a "choose life" plate.

The commission was one of 13 groups nationwide to get the annual "Jefferson Muzzle" award Tuesday from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of the First Amendment.

"This is outright censorship that has absolutely no excuse under the First Amendment," said Peter Gentala, legal counsel for the Scottsdale-based Center for Arizona Policy.

The anti-abortion group has filed a lawsuit in federal court that calls for Arizona to produce the plates.

The license plate commission rejected the "choose life" plate in August without comment. A spokeswoman for Gov. Janet Napolitano later said the commission has a right to block contentious messages on plates.

The commission is legally obligated to issue plates for groups that serve the community, Gentala said. That’s the case of the Arizona Life Coalition, which requested the plate, Gentala said.

The commission has approved plates for groups such as firefighters. It has rejected several others, including one to recognize singer Jimmy Buffett.

"We’ve probably rejected more than we’ve given," said Lela Steffey, a former Mesa lawmaker who is on the commission.

She said the award was "in very poor taste," but Steffey would not comment further because the issue is in litigation.

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