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Auto license ruling correct

Restricting the content of state-required plates isn't censorship

We agree with the Oregon Supreme Court's decision that Oregon motorists shouldn't have free rein to say anything they want on personalized license plates.

The court unanimously agreed with a ban on references to alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and to vulgar or sex-related words on vanity plates. The regulations were established by the state Driver and Motor Vehicles Services.

No telling what would end up on plates if their content were wide open. Given today's anything-goes mentality, the possibilities are sobering.

Despite the contentions of the American Civil Liberties Union, this is not a free-speech issue. The plaintiff is still allowed to say or write what he wishes ' he just can't do it on a license plate provided to him by the state.

The Oregon court made its ruling in a case brought by an Applegate Valley man, Michael Higgins, represented by the ACLU. The DMV rejected the former California wine shop owner's bid for vanity plates reading WINE, VINO and IN VINO.

— Higgins contends that, under the state's free-speech guarantees, the state cannot restrict messages on vanity plates. In 2000, the Court of Appeals ruled against Higgins, and the Supreme Court upheld that decision, saying that vanity plates are not free speech because drivers are not free to display them.

Drivers must display DMV-issued plates if they choose to drive on state roads. The Oregon court also said that under federal court decisions a license plate is not a public forum, and the DMV's rules are reasonable restraints on speech.

The ACLU maintains that people should decide what speech is suitable, rather than the government. DMV rules are government censorship, the ACLU says.

We disagree with that argument, because a vehicle owner is not prohibited by the government from expressing an opinion. If he or she wishes, the driver can write the word or words on a piece of paper and display it in the vehicle's window.

Check out the content of some bumper stickers and you'll see that it's obvious the state does not regulate messages posted on cars.

The ACLU has 90 days to decide if it will take Higgins' case to the U.S. Supreme Court. We hope the organization has better cases to fight.

We support free speech and people's rights to express unpopular opinions. But we recognize that while the First Amendment prohibits the government from interfering with speech, it does not require the government to provide the means for publishing those opinions.

Rebuild the bridge

The collapse of Wimer's covered bridge was a near-tragedy for a family. The county and other agencies involved should do everything they can to ensure it doesn't become a tragedy for the community.

The 110-year-old bridge collapsed as three members of a family were walking on it just as a car crossed. Two of the family members were seriously injured.

The bridge is a total loss, although portions certainly may be salvageable. It fell nearly 40 feet into Evans Creek and the impact destroyed not only the understructure, but the covered roof as well.

The timing was particularly unfortunate: The county was scheduled to begin a &

36;660,000 renovation of the bridge using federal funds from a national program for preserving covered bridges.

We urge county, state and federal officials to do everything they can to replace Wimer's covered bridge. This is not a transportation issue, but rather an issue of community identity. Wimer would be a changed place without its bridge, and not for the better.