George and Maxine Maynard, Jehovah’s witnesses, were going to find out. Obscuring the motto was a misdemeanor. Believing the “Live Free or Die” motto to be repugnant to their moral, religious and political beliefs
in May or June 1974 Mr. Maynard actually snipped the words “or Die” off the license plates, and then covered the resulting hole, as well as the words “Live Free,” with tape. This was done, according to Mr. Maynard, because neighborhood children kept removing the tape.
Mr. Maynard was found guilty on three separate charges and, upon refusing to pay the fines, was sentenced to, and served, 15 days in jail! He then filed suit in federal court, asking the judge to declare the statute unconstitutional. He won! (at least at the trial level.) The judge prohibited further enforcement of the law against Mr. Maynard. Of course, the state appealed, and the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. I’m sure you can guess who won…. Maynard! The Court framed the issue as follows:
whether the State may constitutionally require an individual to participate in the dissemination of an ideological message by displaying it on his private property in a manner and for the express purpose that it be observed and read by the public.
The Court’s answer: “We hold that the State may not do so.”
The juxtaposition of the slogan “Live Free or Die” with the act of trying to force someone to display it is just a little ironic, don’t you think? (On another note, for a number of years, New Hampshire has been the only state that does not have a mandatory seat belt law [though that may change this year] despite the fact that, because of this, they forgo millions of dollars in federal funds.) By Chester, nobody’s going to tell those New Hampshirites they have to buckle up. “Live Free or Die” baby!
The case is Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705 (1977) and may be read in its entirety here.