California DMV office
A California DMV office. Courtesy of the department

A USC professor is suing the California Department of Motor Vehicles for denying his application for a personalized license plate supporting an English soccer team known as “the Whites” on grounds that the plate could have racial connotations, it was reported Thursday.

Jonathan Kotler applied for a plate that read “COYW,” an abbreviation for “Come on You Whites,” the chant used by fans of the West London-based Fulham Football Club, according to a suit filed in federal court Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported

But a DMV official rejected the request, writing that the slogan “carries connotations offensive to good taste and decency,” according to a letter included as an exhibit in the suit.

Kotler, who specializes in media and 1st Amendment law, appealed, arguing that the team uses the hashtag “#COYW” on its social media accounts and sells apparel with the abbreviation. Using the “Whites” moniker for the team because of their white uniforms is roughly analogous to calling Stanford University’s sports teams the Cardinal, Kotler argued.

A department manager wrote back saying the department was maintaining its decision, adding that “Come On You Whites” could have racial connotations, but Kotler’s suit claims the department violated his civil rights by denying the license plate.

“The 1st Amendment does not allow the DMV to serve as the arbiter of good taste,” said Kotler’s attorney, Wen Fa, who works for the Pacific Legal Foundation, according to The Times. “When government officials are given free rein to regulate free speech, they’ll come to conclusions that are biased, arbitrary and, in this case, flat-out wrong.”

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