‘They were seven letters on the license plate – ICUHAJI. Phonetically, it could be read, “I see you, Haji.” To the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, the message was considered offensive to Muslim and grounds for the tag’s revocation. But to former Army sergeant, Sean Bujno, the plates sent a message of support for soldiers who served with him during two tours in Iraq. Apparently, the court agreed.
Pilot Online If the Department of Motor Vehicles is going to let people praise certain religions or ethnicities on their license plates, it also must let people denigrate individuals of those faiths and nationalities. That’s the opinion of a Circuit Court judge, who ruled last week that part of the DMV’s guidelines governing vanity tags is unconstitutional.
The ruling stemmed from an appeal from an Iraq War veteran who disagreed with the state’s decision last year to revoke his personalized plates, which read “ICUHAJI.” “Haji” is a common and often derogatory term for Arabs used by U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Judge John W. Brown wrote in his ruling that the DMV must either return the license plates – which can be read, “I see you, Haji” – to Sean Bujno or find a permissible reason to keep the tags from the Chesapeake resident.
Bujno, a former Army sergeant who was honorably discharged in 2009, displayed the plates on his car for more than four years before the DMV revoked them. In a Nov. 3, 2011, letter, the DMV informed Bujno that the tags violated a prohibition on letter combinations that could reasonably be interpreted as being “socially, racially, or ethically offensive or disparaging.” The DMV apparently was responding to a
citizen Muslim complaint, Brown said.
Assistant Attorney General Janet Westbrook said Bujno requested “HAJIKLR” plates in 2007 and was denied. When he revoked the “ICUHAJI” tags, Commissioner Richard Holcomb also noted a bumper sticker on Bujno’s car. It read: “God Bless Our Troops, Especially Our Snipers.”
Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles has also revoked a set of vanity plates that read “F.OSAMA” on the basis that they are “profane, obscene or vulgar in nature.” The plates have been registered to Rick Sanders for the last seven years. He applied for them as a way to display his patriotism after the 9/11 attacks. At the time the DMV approved the plates without asking any questions.
Meyer said his client’s father requested the “HAJIKLR” tags. As for the bumper sticker, Meyer argued the DMV wasn’t allowed to consider anything except the plate type, character combination and make, model and year of the vehicle.
Abed Ayoub, legal director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said he supports the principles of free speech, but “there should be a line drawn in regards to racial slurs.” (What race is Islam?)
VIDEO below is from right after the plates were revoked: