Nov 13 2013
It’s back to court a third time if an Iraq War veteran hopes to see ‘ICUHAJI’ (I see you, Haji) license plates on his vehicle again. A Circuit Court judge last week dismissed Sean Bujno’s second attempt to reclaim the personalized tags, which some Muslims find offensive.
Hampton Roads “It’s easy to sit back and say, ‘Oh, this is just about a license plate,’ but this is about the First Amendment,” said Andrew Meyers, Bujno’s attorney. He said they are considering another appeal – this time with the Virginia Court of Appeals or U.S. District Court. “This is how we keep our rights,” he said. “We have to fight for them.”
The Department of Motor Vehicles, which revoked the tags in 2011, won the second appeal on procedural grounds. Judge John W. Brown ruled the Chesapeake man failed to exhaust his possible remedies through the DMV before returning to court.
The DMV initially rescinded the plates – which can be read as “I see you, haji” – because they violated a prohibition on letter combinations that could reasonably be interpreted as being “socially, racially, or ethnically offensive or disparaging.” “Haji” is a common and often derogatory term for Muslims used by U.S. soldiers in the Middle East. The word also is used by Muslims to describe a person who has made a pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca.
Bujno is a former Army sergeant who was honorably discharged in 2009. He displayed the tags on his car for more than four years before they were revoked. He appealed, prompting Brown last year to rule that DMV guideline unconstitutional. He ordered the DMV to return the plates to Bujno or find a permissible reason to keep the tags from him.
In February, the DMV notified Bujno the tags were being denied because they condone or encourage violence and are obscene or otherwise vulgar in nature. Bujno filed his second appeal in Circuit Court about three months later. Brown said Bujno first needed to take the new revocation ruling to a DMV board.