MARQUETTE, Mich. (CN) - An Iraq war veteran sued Michigan for refusing his request for an INFIDEL vanity license plate, which he wants because he and his fellow vets "came to embrace their identity as 'infidels' in the eyes of their enemies."
Michigan rejected Michael Matwyuk's request for INFIDEL plate under its "offensive to good taste and decency" provision.
Matwyuk sued Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Michael Fildey, who he claims personally rejected his request as manager of the state department that handles vanity plates.
Matwyuk retired from the Army as a sergeant after 22 years service. He says he served in Iraq "during the height of hostilities in that country." He was in combat in Fallujah in 2004 and 2005 and "sustained multiple injuries, including traumatic brain injury and hearing loss." He works for the Department of Veterans Affairs providing assistance to other veterans.
He says in the federal lawsuit: "He and his fellow troops were constantly under attack by insurgent extremists whose word for the American soldiers was 'infidel.' Seeking to reclaim or reappropriate this term as a source of American pride and patriotism, Sergeant Matwyuk and other soldiers came to embrace their identity as 'infidels.' He and other American veterans proudly refer to themselves as 'infidels' as a reminder of the bond they share as survivors of a bloody war in a hostile part of the world.
"To honor the sacrifices of his fellow soldiers and to express his pride and patriotism as a veteran of the war in Iraq, Sergeant Matwyuk wishes to obtain a personalized Michigan license plate that reads 'INFIDEL,' or a variation on that word such as 'INFIDL' or 'INF1DL.'"
But the defendants - including Fildey, whom the sergeant sued in his individual capacity - rejected him, Matwyuk says.
He claims the state's "offensive to good taste and decency" restriction is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, arbitrary and discriminates on the basis of viewpoint.
Matwyuk claims that many of his fellow veterans have tattooed the word on their chest or arms, or sew patches displaying the word on their uniforms.
He says he appealed the denial in a letter, citing the First Amendment, but was rebuffed again, in a letter stating that "where we draw the line is if the sentiment could be construed as offensive to the general public. In the case of infidel we believe it does carry an offensive connotation now because of the way it's being used by radical elements.'"
So he wrote a second appeal, explaining his status as a combat veteran and the practice of "American veterans proudly refer[ring] to themselves as 'infidels' as a reminder of the bond they share as survivors of a bloody war in a hostile part of the world"-but that was rejected too.
He claims the defendant Department of State "has issued other personalized license plates that express religious sentiments, skepticism about religion, and dissent from religion. The configuration 'HERETIC' is currently in use as a personalized license plate in Michigan."
Matwyuk wants his INFIDEL plate, and wants the its "offensive to good taste and decency" provision declared unconstitutional.
He is represented by Daniel Korobkin with the ACLU in Detroit.