You can't have a sexually explicit license plate in Virginia, but you can have an anti-Muslim one.
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. The veteran's attorney, however, said his client did not intend to offend anyone.
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.
"There are going to be people who will disagree with this opinion, and there will be people who support it, but that is the beauty of this country," said Andrew D. Meyer, who represented Bujno with another attorney, T.J. O'Brien.
A DMV spokeswoman said the department is still reviewing the judge's 14-page opinion. She said no decisions have been made regarding Bujno and his license plates.
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 complaint, Brown said.
In his defense of Bujno, Meyer noted the traditional definition of a Haji: a person who has made a "hajj," or Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. He said his client has expanded the meaning to include all U.S. soldiers who served in Iraq, not just Arabs.
In court earlier this year, an attorney representing the DMV disagreed. 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."