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Biblical reference not allowed on Vt. plate

RUTLAND, Vt. -- A federal judge has rejected the latest effort by a man who wants the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles to issue him a vanity license plate with a religious message.

US District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha agreed with a federal magistrate who denied a request by Shawn Byrne of West Rutland to order the Vermont DMV to issue him a plate with ''JN36TN," referring to a Bible passage.

Byrne filed his lawsuit in January after his request was denied for a vanity license plate for his restored 1966 Ford pickup.

Murtha wrote in his one-page order that he reviewed the report and recommendation filed earlier this month by federal Magistrate Jerome J. Niedermeier as well as the recent objections to it filed by Byrne's attorneys.

Murtha also sided with Niedermeier in denying a request by the state to dismiss the case.

''Although the statute appears to be viewpoint neutral on its face, Byrne asserts that some religious references have been permitted by the DMV," the magistrate wrote.

''If that is the case, Byrne may have a viable equal-protection claim, as distinctions between religious speech would not be reasonable."

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