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Iraq war vet sues state over vanity plate

An Iraq war veteran is suing the Michigan Secretary of State for denying his request for a vanity plate that reads "Infidel."

Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Matwyuk says U.S. troops were often referred to as "infidels" by insurgents in Iraq. Matwyuk and his fellow soldiers re-claimed the word. Some of them sewed patches with the word onto their uniforms, or even tattooed it on their bodies.

"And now that Sgt. Matwyuk is back in the United States, he'd like to get a vanity plate to express his own identity as a soldier who fought in this war, and he's being told no,” said ACLU of Michigan attorney Dan Korobkin. The ACLU filed the lawsuit today on Matwyuk’s behalf.

Korobkin says the state's reason for denying the request - that the word could be offensive - is illegal.

“Any law that restricts speech based on ‘good taste and decency’ is clearly unconstitutional under the First Amendment,” he said.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State says it balances the right to personal expression with its obligation under the law to reject messages that could be considered offensive.

The state has 21 days to respond to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Grand Rapids.

Sarah Hulett is Michigan Radio’s Director of Amplify & Longform, helping reporters to do their best work.