Kentuckians will be able to buy "In God We Trust" license plates starting early next year, the state Transportation Cabinet said Friday.
The plates will be standard-issue, not specialty plates, selling for the same $21 fee that ordinary Kentucky license plates cost, cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe said.
The two designs are nearly identical, but instead of carrying the slogan "Unbridled Spirit," the new plate will read "In God We Trust."
Congress declared "In God We Trust" to be the national motto in 1956.
"The national motto belongs to everybody, and if people want it on their license plate, they shouldn't have to pay extra for it," Wolfe said.
The General Assembly has debated creating an "In God We Trust" license plate for the last three years, although the legislation failed, Wolfe said. But the cabinet has the legal authority for the registration of motor vehicles, he said.
A Louisville-based group, Reclaim Our Culture Kentuckiana, is suing the Transportation Cabinet in Franklin Circuit Court for the right to sponsor a specialty plate with "In God We Trust" on it. The group said it would use money from sales of the plate to raise awareness about harm caused by pornography and the sex industry and to help people hurt or victimized by porn, sexual predators and the sex business.
The organization was surprised Friday by the cabinet's announcement.
"This comes as a shock to us since we have been working so hard to get this plate on the road. The timing certainly is suspicious, given we just had a court hearing," said MaryAnn Gramig, Reclaim Our Culture's Kentucky's director of policy and operations.
Gov. Steve Beshear first announced his support for an "In God We Trust" license plate in 2008, said spokeswoman Jill Midkiff.
"The timing of today's announcement was related to the Transportation Cabinet's re-plating schedule, which occurs every five years. It has been five years since the last general-issue plate," Midkiff said.
Edwin Kagin, the Kentucky-based national legal director of American Atheists Inc., said the state would have been on stronger constitutional ground with a specialty plate, rather than putting God on the standard plate.
"That's over the line. That's improper," Kagin said. "It's establishing religion over non-religion on the state's official license plate."
Wolfe said the cabinet hopes to have the plates in the hands of county clerks by Jan. 15. All of the state's license plates are made by inmates at the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange, he said.