When applied to sports teams, the term "Redskin" is not offensive and won't be banned from personalized license plates, a divided State Tax Commission ruled Thursday.
"The denial of a plate which, on its face, expresses support for the National Football League's Washington Redskins would appear to nullify the intent of the personalized plate program," the commission's order said.Written by commissioners W. Val Oveson and Alice Shearer, the ruling upholds an earlier decision by the Motor Vehicle Division to deny a petition requesting the revocation of three plates - "REDSKIN" "REDSKN" and "RDSKIN."
"In light of the fact that the term `Redskin' is used pervasively throughout our society in reference to sports teams, it is the opinion of commissioners Oveson and Shearer that the term `Redskin' is not `offensive' and does not express `contempt, ridicule or superiority,' " the order said.
Salt Lake attorney Brian Barnard raised the issue in July, saying use of the terms violates a commission policy banning personalized plates that "express contempt, ridicule or superiority of a race, religion, deity, ethnic heritage, gender or political affiliation."
Commissioner Joe B. Pacheco agreed with Barnard, saying the fact that term is offensive to some people should be sufficient grounds to revoke the plates.
"Some members of our society do not realize that there is no greater pain than to be hated for what you are and that there is real pain and humiliation suffered when abusive words are used to describe a group of people," Pacheco wrote.
Calling "Redskin" an "ethnic slur with a clear derogatory connotation," he added, "To sanction the continuance of the plates can only perpetuate stereotypes damaging to the dignity and self respect of American Indians."
While acknowledging that some people - including him - might view the term in a "negative light" and would urge sports teams to drop it, Commissioner Roger O. Tew nevertheless concurred with Oveson and Shearer.
"The tax commission's role in issuing personalized plates is to reflect current public perceptions and understandings and not to create them," Tew said.
In other words, the commission must evaluate whether the general public, as opposed to individuals or individual groups, would consider a plate request offensive, he said.
The Tax Commission noted in its order that Barnard "is not a Native American, nor was he appearing in a representative capacity on behalf of a Native American."
However, Pacheco recalled that during a hearing on the issue, an American Indian witness testified that he considered the term offensive and derogatory.
Oveson and Shearer said the job of censoring the license plate program is becoming increasingly difficult, with the commission "subject to criticism from all sides for allowing or disallowing a particular plate."
Unless the commission is granted reasonable discretion in the matter, "it would be well for the Legislature to eliminate the program and only issue normal plates with a combination of numbers and letters generated in sequence," they said.