A Nova Scotia woman says she's shocked she was turned down in her request for a personalized licence plate because of its religious message.

Rhonda Lynn Cormier-Clarke wanted to use the acronym 'IXOYE', which means, in Greek, Jesus Christ Son of God and Saviour. She was surprised by the reaction she received from a woman at the Service Nova Scotia counter.

"She said 'oh you won't be able to have that, I can guarantee it's banned,'" said Cormier-Clarke. "And she said, yes red flagged, anything that has a religious connotation is banned."

Cormier-Clarke said her choice of plate wasn't meant to be disrespectful.

"I'm just sharing my heart, my beliefs. I actually thought, you know, IXOYE, it's quiet, but it's my truth. It's not putting it right out there."

The incident has left her questioning why the government would ban something that she says doesn't mean any harm.

"Is there religious freedom? That's the question," said Cormier-Clarke. "It's like they're putting their focus on the wrong area. It's a licence plate. I'm not saying anything mean."

Separation of church and state

The Minister responsible for Service Nova Scotia – the department that issues licence plates – doesn't know what Ixoye means.

"The personalized licence plates, I think to my knowledge, are anything except politics and religion," said John MacDonell.

"A long time ago, people determined that church and state should be separated. I think this is kind of a further commitment to that. I'm not sure it's entirely appropriate at all for the government to be involved in the message."

He says plates with the words Amen, Allah or even OMG might offend people. IXOYE falls into the same category.

"There's somebody out there who is going to recognize that and somebody else who might recognize it," said MacDonell. "Someone might think it's great and some will not. So for our citizenry who pay taxes, they may have a problem with that."

MacDonell said he's not sure if a list of red flagged licence plates even exists. Cormier-Clarke said the government needs to be clear about the rules and post that information online.

In the meantime, MacDonell offered a solution. He pointed out there's no rule that bans anyone from putting religious phrases on novelty plates on the front of their car.

Nova Scotia isn't the only province to restrict licence plates based on religion. Employees in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and P.E.I. told CBC News they also have rules for personalized plates.

With files from David Thurton.