The owner of a personalized Hawaii auto license plate that says “FCKBLM” has a message for Honolulu city officials threatening to sue him to take back the plate — FCKHNL.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court last week, Edward Odquina says the City and County of Honolulu has violated his free speech rights by seeking to revoke the plate, which Odquina lawfully obtained in early 2021.

In the 23-page complaint, Odquina’s attorney, Kevin O’Grady, asserts the city and state are essentially squelching Odquina’s speech with laws governing license plates that are unconstitutional on their face and as applied in Odquina’s situation.

“Odquina has very strong beliefs and views including political beliefs and views and he wishes to express his views through a personalized license plate for a vehicle he owns and a business he started,” the suit says.

Black Lives Matter marchers arrive at the Capitol after marching from Ala Moana Beach Park.
Black Lives Matter marchers demonstrated at the Hawaii State Capitol as part of a nationwide protest of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The suit goes on to outline some of these beliefs, which Odquina hasn’t previously made public.

After outlining some history of the Black Lives Matter organization as founded after the death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who in 2013 was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer who was later acquitted of murder, the movement gained momentum and prominence after the killing of George Floyd, another black man, who died while being arrested and for which several police officers later were charged and convicted.

“Odquina vehemently disagrees with BLM’s publicly stated positions and positions associated with it, including but not limited to, defunding police departments and its assertions that many or all police officers and the criminal justice system itself, are inherently racist and violent to minorities, specifically black Americans,” the suit says.

In addition to a business registered as “Film Consulting KravMAGA Bloomberg, LLC,” – aka FCKBLM – Odquina owns the web domain, which stands for “FIGHT COMMUNISM & KNUCKLEHEAD BITCH LIBERAL MARXISTS  !!!”

“Odquina is so opposed to the policies and statements of BLM that he sought the ‘FCKBLM’ license plate to also convey his personal opinion and exercise his free speech rights,” the suit says.

The suit argues the Hawaii statute restricting messages allowed on personalized plates is overly broad because the statute restricts messages that are “misleading or publicly objectionable” without defining what is misleading or publicly objectionable. In addition, the suit argues, the state, city and county have all failed to adopt administrative rules to define such terms and create a process for making determinations.

Instead, the suit says, the city and state have created a process allowing bureaucrats to make the determinations based on their opinions. In addition, the suit says, the city has adopted procedures amounting to administrative rules without following the rulemaking processes required by state law.

The suit asks the court for an order to prevent the government officials from enforcing a ban on “misleading or publicly objectionable” license plates.

The suit also recounts the bureaucratic fight over the plate, which gained national media attention. After issuing the plate, the suit says, Honolulu officials repeatedly notified Odquina that the city was recalling the plate.

FCKBLM License Plate
Edward Oquina, owner of a controversial license plate bearing “FCKBLM,” also owns the domain Screenshot

The situation escalated in late June, the suit says, when the Honolulu Department of Corporation Counsel, the equivalent of the city attorney, delivered a letter to Odquina informing him that the County “has been authorized to take legal action against you for your failure to surrender the special number plates issued to you with the letters “FCKBLM.”

In an interview, O’Grady said that even if a term is offensive, or even profane, it is still protected against the government restricting it based on a view the speech expresses.

“Offensive speech is protected speech,” he said.

Odquina has some precedent on his side when it comes to courts striking down state and local government restrictions on laws banning offensive license plates. In 2020, a federal judge in Northern California struck down a similar law in California after it was challenged by people who had been denied requests for plates including the messages “OGWOOLF,” “SLAAYRR” and “QUEER.”

In ruling against the state, U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar wrote that the U.S Supreme Court has repeatedly said, “the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.”

Still, asked if the government could prevent the word “FUCK” from appearing on a personalized license plate without violating the First Amendment rights of the person seeking the plate, O’Grady said, “I think that’s one of the main questions that’s going to have to be addressed.”

City officials could not be reached for comment.

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