COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina's lieutenant governor announced Thursday that he is willing to put up $4,000 of his own money so his state can become the first in the nation to issue "I Believe" license plates with the image of a cross and a stained glass window.

The legislation allowing the plates was one of several religious-themed bills to became laws in the closing days of the state's legislative session.

The bills mean South Carolinians attending local government meetings could soon see the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer posted on walls, pray without fear of being sued and drive home in cars with the "I Believe" plates.

Civil rights groups are considering lawsuits. An attorney for the New York-based American Jewish Congress, Mark Stern, said the bills are an obvious endorsement of religion by legislators in an election year. His group is looking to sue over the plates.

Gov. Mark Sanford allowed the license plate bill to become law without his signature, noting the state already has a process to allow special plates for any cause as long as enough people come together and put up the money needed to buy them.

Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer said Thursday he is willing to put up the money, then get reimbursed. The state must collect either a $4,000 deposit or 400 prepaid orders.

Bauer helped push the measure through the General Assembly, saying it gives people a way to express their beliefs. The idea came from Florida, where a proposal for an "I Believe" tag ultimately failed.

"I'm all about freedom of speech," Bauer said.
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