A Christian Man Sued Oklahoma Over a Religious Image on its License Plates… and Won

This is good news for all of us.

First, some background: Below is a sculpture called “Sacred Rain Arrow” by Oklahoman Allan Houser. It’s currently housed in Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum.

“It is depicting a young Apache warrior who was selected in a time of drought to shoot a rain arrow into the sky, into the heavens, to bring his people’s prayers to their gods so that they would get rain,” said Anne Brockman, Gilcrease Museum public information officer.

The sculpture has been on display at Gilcrease since 1988 or 1989, she said. It is at the front entrance to the museum, she said.

In 2009, the state began issuing license plates featuring an image of the sculpture:

So here’s the question we have to consider: Is this merely a representation of Oklahoma’s Native American history or an illegal endorsement of religion?

In any case, if you wanted a different plate, you had to pay an additional fee. If you covered up the image, you could face a penalty. Keith Cressman, a Christian, paid for a new plate for a while but, eventually, he decided he shouldn’t have to. Why should the default option promote a religion that wasn’t his? Cressman having a Native American myth on his license plate was pretty similar to atheists having a cross on theirs.

Cressman soon filed a lawsuit (PDF) against state officials:

Mr. Cressman alleged violations of his rights to freedom of speech, due process, and the free exercise of religion under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution… Alternatively, he sought to compel the Defendants to provide him with specialty license plates at no additional cost.

The district court threw out his lawsuit last May. But today, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver reversed that ruling (PDF), saying that Cressman had a point:

In sum, Mr. Cressman has plausibly alleged that the image on the standard Oklahoma license plate conveys a particularized message that others would likely understand and therefore constitutes symbolic speech that qualifies for First Amendment protection. In addition, he has plausibly alleged that he is compelled to speak because the image conveys a religious/ideological message, covering up the image poses a threat of prosecution, and his only alternative to displaying the image is to pay additional fees for specialty license plates that do not contain the image.

Frankly, while I have a hard time understanding how any rational person could consider this a promotion of an ideology (or religious belief), the ruling only serves to help us in the future.

If this image goes too far, then surely a cross or other religious symbol can’t be allowed on a license plate, either. A devout Christian may have done a huge favor to all of us who support church/state separation.

(Thanks to Beau for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Technically it’s a religious belief that shooting an arrow in the sky is what caused the rain to fall because there is someone, an Intelligent Designer™, perhaps, whose security system was tripped by the arrow. Just like a cross is a religious belief that Jesus died on it for the exact reasons stated in the Bible.

    While the arrow business, like sacrificing virgins to a volcano, is today considered nothing more than mythology–mostly by virtue of most people who believed it back in the day now being safely dead–it is still alive enough to offend devout Christians when it’s on forced on them by the government.

    This incident could be used to explain to Christians why it’s offensive to Atheists–and others–when they do the exact same thing.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Every native tribe has its own mythology. Interesting that none of the non-Apache natives objected.

  • JET

    Case number two today of Christians doing our work for us!

  • C Peterson

    Isn’t it a representation of an historical act that had a religious component? I don’t see how that makes it a religious symbol in its own right. I think Florida could quite properly use an image of Spanish explorers planting a cross on one of their beaches, or California show a mission under construction, or any number of other historical examples. They wouldn’t strike me as religious expressions at all.

    If every artistic representation that can be associated with an action that had some sort of religious component is rejected on First Amendment grounds, that may not leave much!

    (I would add, that if the average person needs a detailed explanation about why some representation is inherently religious, that representation probably doesn’t rise to level of a protected, or prohibited, religious symbol or expression of religious belief.)

  • http://knottiesniche.com/ Knottie

    This issue has already been addressed by the courts. It won’t win this time either.. sigh.

  • http://www.intentionallyoutside.blogspot.com TravelingBiker

    using your threshold almost any endorsement of religion would pass scrutiny. The line must be drawn somewhere, and I would rather it error against religious endorsements, rather than error in favor of them.

  • C Peterson

    Sorry, which threshold?

  • Matthew Baker

    It is kind of awesome that he is going to shoot that arrow without a bow string.

  • A3Kr0n

    It’s a magic arrow!

  • A3Kr0n

    “I have a hard time understanding how any rational person could consider this a promotion of an ideology (or religious belief)”.
    From what I’ve read in the past, this is exactly how Christians feel about us complaining about their religious symbols.
    About 10 years ago I was at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, and there were little bits of cloth tied to trees in a certain place. There was a sign saying they were religious artifacts put there by the local Indians, and to please be respectful.
    Right? or wrong? I didn’t give it much notice back then because that was before I became a raving atheist. I was just a non-believer back then.

  • http://www.facebook.com/billpg Bill P. Godfrey

    License plates should be incredibly boring serial numbers. No art, no slogans, nothng but the number in a boring yet readable typeface.

    If anyone wants to add decoration like this archer, that would be up to the car’s owner to choose and finance on their own.

  • http://www.intentionallyoutside.blogspot.com TravelingBiker

    Re-reading it I guess I assumed a threshold from your comment about every artistic representation being rejected on first amendment grounds, so please allow me to rephrase that from a comment to a question: What would be the appropriate threshold in your opinion to allow art in, but at the same time, to keep religion out?

  • http://www.intentionallyoutside.blogspot.com TravelingBiker

    Ah, I’m sorry I figured out the threshold… I inferred that from your statement, “if the average person needs a detailed representation explaining how it’s religious, it probably doesn’t rise….” That was the threshold I was referring to. That seems to me a vague standard that couldn’t be practically applied and would result in alot of “non-secular” getting over the threshold. So my question stands, what threshold do you think would be appropriate. Thanks.

  • JohnH2

    If you think that Native Americans worshiping at holy sites which we have forcefully taken from them and desecrated by making into public parks is wrong, and not because those sites are public parks, then I think you have some issues to work out.

  • Savoy47

    I like how it puts front and center a Christian that understands that separation of church and state is there to protect Christians too. Maybe the Freedom From Religion Foundation should send him a gift card or something. That way the guy can think about the value freedom from Religion also. Positive PR would be a plus.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

    Are you being sarcastic?

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I see the difference as between their right to continue to worship on land that we now claim as ‘public’, and the requirement that I ‘respect’ someone else’s silly belief. I’d be willing to entertain giving back legal title to the land. I would not entertain the idea that pieces of cloth hanging in trees require something different from me than say, crosses hanging in trees. I’m probably not going to go out of my way to remove anything that other individuals put up, but to me they’re on equal footing.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    It really isn’t surprising that one of the repeat purveyors of dishonesty here would just make up whatever he wanted and claim that A3Kr0n said it. What’s truth after you decide that the Book of Mormon is history, after all?

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Hey, it’s their work too, after all.

  • Stev84

    The real issue here is that the plate seems to have been mandatory for some reason. If it had been an optional design it probably would have been fine.

  • griffox

    Damn Atheists!!! wait….

  • Machintelligence

    I think it isn’t mandatory, but it is the only option that doesn’t cost extra, so avoiding it is a burden on the citizen.

  • Willy Occam

    “This incident could be used to explain to Christians why it’s offensive
    to Atheists–and others–when they do the exact same thing.”

    My thought exactly. I personally wouldn’t have a problem with the image on my license plate since the cultural reference seems to overshadow the religious one. But I can completely understand why a religious person would be bothered by the religious implications, and agree that they shouldn’t have to be forced to deal with it.

  • JIM W

    You aren’t from Oklahoma and don’t understand that the use of the word “sacred” in the title of the statue, makes it competition to these bible beating morons.

  • Brian

    Sad part is, most Christians wont even recognize the double standard

  • C Peterson

    Hard to say without a lot more thought. I think intent is important, however (and courts frequently take intent into consideration). In this case, I don’t see how any reasonable person can believe that this particular symbol was ever intended to have a religious message, or to somehow endorse a religious viewpoint.

    Another factor would be the degree to which the religion in question is current. Every religion eventually becomes something that almost everybody considers pure mythology. A cultural icon of South Carolina is Brookgreen Gardens. If South Carolina placed one of Brookgreen’s famous sculptures on its license plates- Diana shooting an arrow at the heavens (very like this Indian sculpture) or the fountain of the Muses… would that constitute endorsement of religion? Personally, I’d say it doesn’t come close, because these are no longer widely practiced religions. How many people in Oklahoma incorporate shooting arrows into the sky to bring rain into their active religion, and how many simply see it as a cultural reference?

    This isn’t a tacky plaster Jesus, it’s a bronze sculpture by an internationally renowned sculptor, honoring his Native American heritage. In the license plate context, I’d no more consider it an endorsement of religion than I do the use of the sacred Zia sun symbol on New Mexico’s flag and license plates.

    Erring on the side of caution is one thing. This seems pretty ridiculous, though. But as Hemant notes, if this doesn’t pass muster, an awful lot of other things don’t, either. Things that many of us would recognize instantly as overstepping the bounds of the First Amendment.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    At least this one has the art work off to the side, so the number is easy to read. Some others I have seen have the art in the background, with colour choices that obscure.

  • JA

    They never do.

  • GeraardSpergen

    The image clearly implies an endorsement of the shooting-arrows-into-the-sky religion, and it has no place on government documents. Now if the guy were shooting arrows into a buffalo or something, that’d be OK.

  • Anon

    The war on Apache begins…

  • DougI

    Who knew that all those years those Tootsie Pop wrappers had a religious symbol on them?

  • C Peterson

    Anybody can worship where they please. But public parks no longer belong to Native Americans, so I’m not particularly tolerant if their worship is disruptive or creates litter. Worship is not inherently wrong, but some modes can be. It does not matter what the history involved is, only the current legal status.

  • Hey Hey Hey

    Wow, now I see how petty atheists look when they sue over people putting up home-made memorials using crosses on the side of the “public” road where someone has died.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    actually, you’re a little bit wrong there. i live on TX just south of the OK/Native lands border. trust me, you get a LOT of advertising and whatnot that SPECIFICALLY endorses “our Native beliefs and (religious) heritage” mostly as reasons why you should drive up there and go to the casinos, but never mind that right now.

    my point is that OK has a growing population of socially, economically and politically powerful believers who just happen to be making a lot of (you guessed it!) money promoting an “ancient religious heritage.” it’s just not about jeebus.

    i’m betting the guy who sued was mostly a racist, frankly. i’m sure he would’ve been as silent as a lamb if it had been a plate with a cross at the discount, and all non religious plates at a premium. but Injun religions. No, Sir. we can’t have that.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    that sounds… racist. i’ve been to a lot of BIG Native religious gatherings/pow-wows/whatever. litter was never an issue. not once.

  • frankbellamy

    I’m not sure this does help us. This is NOT an establishment clause lawsuit. It doesn’t look like the christian is suggesting that the plate violates the separation of church and state. He is making a free speech claim, he is saying that the government is compelling him to say something he doesn’t believe, and that violates the free speech clause. It’s just like Wooley v Maynard, where a jehovah’s witness wanted to cover up the words “live free or die” on his New Hampshire license plate, and the supreme court said he had that right because New Hampshire couldn’t make him support an idea he didn’t believe in. And note that “live free or die” is not in any sense a religious idea. It’s purely a free speech issue. And having strong free speech is good for everyone. But it doesn’t help us the next time we want to make an establishment clause challenge to a cross on a license plate. It’s just a separate legal issue.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    srsly, i know, right?

    here’s an idea: a plain, numbers and letters only plate. with a side area, the same on every plate, and a mess of stickers, decals, whatever, you can put there. at your own expense. xtians and haters and natives and atheists and any other group can sell them. the state can outline regulations, ie you can’t say “fuck” in them, but so long as they are for public consumption, you go and personally personalize your plate.

    fuck this shit with the state picking and choosing which groups can have “their own” plate.

  • Rez™

    I think an atheist groundswell of support for this guy would be something he certainly wouldn’t expect – especially a strong message of, “Religious iconography has no place on a state-issued license of any kind, and so we agree with Mr. Cressman and wholeheartedly support his opposition to state-endorsed religion. (We just hope that he applies it to his own, as well.)”

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Which has happened somewhere between once and never.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Native American religion isn’t a race, and he implied no such thing.

  • WillBell

    I’d consider this similar this similar to someone from Rio having Christ the Redeemer on their license plate, which I think would be fine. No problem as I see it.

  • Katwise

    Problem solved. So easy!

  • Robster

    Jeez! Do these poor deluded, gullible people have nothing better to do than fret about an American Indian representing a myth on a licence plate? All that wasted energy could have been directed at something that needs to be done like helping the homeless or something. What a wanker!

  • JET

    That would be ours in California. Generic plate unless you want to pay through the nose for special artwork. Dozens are available with more released every year, but none have religious connotations. I think someone tried to get missions added at one time claiming it was a part of the state’s history. But there was a big outrage since the missionaries did a pretty good job of enslaving and trying to kill off the native population.

  • Artor

    Well, Rio is a mostly Catholic city in a mostly Catholic country, with no official separation of church & state, and the huge statue of Jebus looking over the city. The public endorsement of Xtianity is pretty explicit, and that’s fine there. But it ain’t Oklahoma, so I don’t think the comparison applies.
    Like Hemant, I think Cressman is a mite over-sensitive to the imagery here, but if this sets precedence, it will help smack down the next state that tries to foist off official pro-life or Jebus plates, which happens every few years like clockwork.

  • duke_of_omnium

    Playing devil’s advocate, Christians say the same thing about various crosses in public areas: that it’s cultural rather than religious. They’re lying, of course, but they do claim it.

  • Little Magpie

    oh like Lincoln’s face in the background right smack in the middle of one version of the IL plate? (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problem with that plate personally – but I can see where it could be construed as making it harder to read.

  • Little Magpie

    For the record, I want to say, I totally get the argument, but DAYUM I WANT that plate. Imagine, tasteful native imagery on license plates! There’s a concept.

  • UWIR

    “This incident could be used to explain to Christians why it’s offensive to Atheists–and others–when they do the exact same thing.”
    This statement supposes that the Christians in question are capable of basic moral reasoning, a supposition that proves inappropriate with distressing frequency.

  • Kodie

    nothing more than mythology–mostly by virtue of most people who believed it back in the day now being safely dead

    I’m not an American Indian, but I know they are not safely dead. I don’t know what beliefs they still have.

  • Kodie

    I hate to be the liberal who means well but I was thinking I might be more offended that a United State of America was labeling and branding itself as “Native America”.

  • UWIR

    “Error” is a noun. The verb is “err” (pronounced “air”).

  • UWIR

    “Mr. Cressman alleged violations of his rights to freedom of speech, due process, and the free exercise of religion under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution… ”

    So apparently he was making an establishment claim, although it appears that the court only agreed with the free speech claim. Now, is “In God We Trust” on the money unconstitutional?

  • UWIR

    And I see a difference between “being respectful” and “respecting”, and between “religious conduct” and “religious belief”.

  • Hey Hey Hey
  • Hey Hey Hey
  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    atheists look when they sue

    The only lawsuit I could find in your three articles involved the state suing an individual (possibly an atheist, but at least defended by FFRF). A lawsuit the individual won, by the way. Crosses on the side of public roads don’t get special privilege, and can get cleaned up with everything else.

    So if you’d like to re-phrase that as:

    Wow, now I see how petty atheists look when they clean up trash, including crosses, on the side of public roads.

    Then you might have a statement with some fact in it.

  • cary_w

    No shit! You don’t even want to get me started on this one! Utah still has the stupid “Ski Utah” plates, because everyone is just dying to give a bunch of billionaires free advertising! The rampant pro-business stand is bad enough without it being the ski industry, they’re the worst! They’re owned by a bunch of greedy out-of-state 1%ers who don’t give a rats ass about the locals or the public lands their ski resorts are on, all they care about are big profits from rich out-of-state tourists. Yeah, I really want to promote that on my car! There were a bunch of people pissed off about this 10+ years ago when they started them, but the only thing we managed to get was another choice for free plate design.

    Of course the alternate design has the lovely new state motto “Life Elevated” on it, which just sounds SO much like a slogan for a legalized marijuana campaign that I have to chuckle every time I see it. Ha ha, like that would ever happen here! But I’d certainly rather support that than the damn ski industry!

  • cary_w

    You realize, don’t you, that the roads actually are public? So when people put up their own crap without permission on public land it is called “littering” and you can be charged a fine if you’re caught doing it? I think you might be thinking of lawsuits filed when the government puts up roadside crosses to memorialize fallen police officers, which is unconstitutional because it implies that the state is endorsing one religion. Do you really want to live in a country where the police all outwardly promote one religion? And how would you feel if that religion wasn’t Christianity? As a Christian, do you think you would have any chance of talking your way out of a ticket now?

  • Tim

    You take away a persons right to say “fuck” and you take way their right to say “fuck the government”
    Bill Hicks.

  • Jason Hinchliffe

    Sigh. I may have to side with the Christian here. Imagine it were an image of a pilgrim accepting the Eucharist. He’s stretching, but technically correct.

  • meekinheritance

    Uckfay atthay.

  • Beth

    So can I sue to get the state of Ohio’s motto “With God, all things are possible” off of my new plates? Since its in the background I’m hoping that I’ll get a plate with a letter or number covering it up.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Most of them are, as are the tribes in Central and South America. Sure, there are still members of those groups who are alive. The vast majority of the world, however, does consider those beliefs to be mythology. The only reason Jesus is not considered mythology is because there are over a billion people who believe in it.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Very true, but it does occasionally have an effect. Our only other alternative, if we want to be left alone in peace, is to go General Order 24 on them, and that’s not good for anybody.

  • frankbellamy

    Um, no. The establishment clause is different from the free speech clause, the due process clause, and the free exercise clause. Those are four different clauses with four different legal meanings. So no, none of the claims are establishment clause claims.

  • Gus Snarp

    Have you seen any of the new plates? I think we lucked out, it’s almost impossible to make out any of the phrases. I’ve scoured the ones I’ve seen and couldn’t find “God” on them. Much better than the South Carolina plates.

  • Gus Snarp

    Wait, isn’t there already a precedent allowing the covering up of portions of the license plate in cases like this? Yes, here it is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wooley_v._Maynard Seems to me this guy’s got a slam dunk case if he just covers it up.

  • Gus Snarp

    I agree with your first sentence. License plates should go back to what they used to be. A plain background with the number, state name, expiration date, and possibly a county name or identifier. No one should be allowed to put any stickers or decoration on them or in any way obscure them. You’ve got the entire car to decorate as you see fit, let’s leave the license plate as an easily readable identification space.

  • Guest

    Remind me again who slaughtered most of the native Americans and took their land?

  • JKPS

    I personally feel like the license plate is more about culture/history than religion, but I completely agree that you shouldn’t have to pay extra for a specialty license plate if you feel that is a religious promotion. And I do think this potentially sets a good precedent for us.

  • allein

    New Jersey plates are pretty generic; yellow background and black lettering, with a little hologram design (there’s a few of them, I think) in the middle which you can only see at the right angle. The paint seems to peel pretty easily, though; I’ve seen some that were pretty hard to read because the paint had flaked off so badly (though mine are 8 months old now and not peeling yet, so maybe they fixed that issue). They do have several alternate designs; the only one I would consider is the “animal friendly” one which has the characters from the Mutts comic strip but I haven’t wanted to spend the extra money.

    I got pulled over once in my old car (supposedly) because the license plate frame, which was put there by the dealer and had been there for years, covered up the words “The Garden State” at the bottom. (Really it was because it as 2am but I guess she needed an excuse.) Perhaps the dealers should know better than to use frames that illegally cover things. I never took it off and no one ever said anything again.

  • Beth

    Its on the right hand middle side. It can be obscured by the first letter in the plate.

  • alfaretta

    I may be wrong, but I don’t think Pilgrims ever “accepted the Eucharist.” That’s Popish!

    Passing the communion plate, yes.

  • Sean McCann

    It was supposed to be for the natives. Google “Oklahoma Territory”.

  • Jason Hinchliffe

    Way to split hairs! Nothing advances a discussion like quibbling over details!

  • WillBell

    I’m just suggesting Christ the Redeemer/this is more cultural than religious in the context.

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    I seriously doubt this will be used an any kind of precedent for removing pervasive Christian symbols from anything. The rain arrow got removed because Native Americans are not the powerful dominant majority, Christians are. That license plate wasn’t promoting religion or hurting the secular in any way. This only hurts Native Americans, it doesn’t help us at all. Does anyone really expect a Christian judge in a mostly Christian nation to remove the ten commandments from courthouses based on this? Going after minorities who haven’t harmed us, and don’t have the power to fight back effectively, isn’t the way to protect ourselves from imposition of Christianity.

  • Phred_P

    I partially agree with this. While the shooting of an arrow into the sky may have originated with some sort of religious intent, there is nothing about it that is inherently religious. Atheist archers can shoot arrows into the sky just as well as anyone else.

    The Christian cross, on the other hand, is inherently and explicitly religious in nature. It is the widely accepted symbol of a major world religion, recognized around the globe as such by literally billions of people.

    While it is possible to see a statue of a native American shooting an arrow into the sky and not think of his tribal religion, it is not possible to see a cross and not think of Christianity. I think this would be true even if the relative popularities of the two religions were swapped.

    But I do agree that this incident might be quite useful to illustrate to well-meaning Christians exactly why we object so strenuously to Christian symbols being promoted by the government.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    You know the scene where the Injuns got kicked out of those other states? Guess where they got sent. Key phrase: Trail of Tears.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Technically, Rio is not covered by the constitution of the USA and its guarantee of religious freedom. Because Rio is not part of the USA. Just thought you should know.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I agree. However, the statue is specifically identified as referring to Native Americans, not to just any random collection of archers.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Here’s a bad example: California Yosemite plate

    Dark blue numbers & letters against a background which includes various shades of blue

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Another bad example: Whale Tail California plate

    With dark blue lettering on a varied, mostly blue background.

  • WillBell

    I was considering the situation apart from the actual laws of the area I know this isn’t Brazil.

  • Phred_P

    But that’s not quite the point. It doesn’t really matter who the archer is – the mere act of shooting an arrow into the sky, regardless of how the shooter is dressed or what culture he/she belongs to, does not automatically imply religion.

    Besides, I’m sure there were atheists among the native Americans as well. Just because one participates in a ritual (shooting the arrow) doesn’t mean one necessarily accepts the premise behind it (asking the gods to make it rain).

  • Dudeman

    Sure, I say eliminate all art and symbolism because of its potentially religious undertones, be real gestapo about it. Or exercise a little tolerance for other people’s beliefs and maybe focus on their actions (such as throwing virgins to volcano’s).

  • UWIR

    In this case, it’s hard to imagine a free exercise claim that does not implicate the establishment clause.

  • frankbellamy

    Can you elaborate on what you mean by that? Just because you think the establishment clause is implicated doesn’t mean that the plaintiff is alleging that or that the court is talking about that at all, or that any precedent for future interpretations of the establishment clause is set. If the court considers a free exercise claim or a free speech claim, and never mentions the establishment clause, even on facts like these, I don’t see how that is useful precedent in an establishment clause case.

  • UWIR

    What free exercise is being infringed? The only free exercise argument I can see is if he claims that his religion prohibits him from participating in other religions, so not participating in other religions is an exercise of his religion. But that still leaves not participating in other religions as the core issue, which is an establishment issue. If a license plate were to say “In God We Trust”, I can’t see any good faith argument for why an establishment case can’t be made for that, and this case isn’t precedence, even if the plaintiff didn’t phrase it as an establishment claim.

  • frankbellamy

    These are still fundamentally different claims, though as seen by the fact that they have very different remedies. If the free exercise clause is violated because it burdens this plaintiffs religion to be forced to display a plate with an image of a religious act he doesn’t believe in, that’s a harm specific to his religious beliefs, and so the remedy is specific to him. He just doesn’t have to display it, but everyone else in Oklahoma probably still does. That’s how free exercise works. Establishment is different. If it’s a violation of the establishment clause, then its a violation with respect to everyone in Oklahoma, irrespective of their belies. If the court were to find an establishment clause violation, the remedy would be to order the state to change the license plate for everyone, not just the plaintiff. That is an enormous difference. And if the plaintiff is only making one of those arguments, then that’s all the court will consider, and that’s all the precedent that will be set.

  • Bill Santagata

    It is a depiction of a culturally significant work of art that is evocative of the history of the State of Oklahoma. The statue is not of any particular god but of a Native American shooting an arrow into the sky with the belief that this will bring rain. I don’t imagine that this is a currently observed religious practice in Oklahoma. If it is, he might have a case (in the same way that a picture of a nun doing the rosary might be unconstitutional on a license plate). Otherwise, it’s as unconstitutional as naming the moon space missions “Apollo”: It’s symbolic and not a serious attempt by the government to revive defunct religious practices.

    As for “compelled speech” I find that argument ridiculous. The State licenses motor vehicles which must bear the state’s license tag. If having to put on a license plate is compelled speech, then the state must make a custom plate for every person lest they “force” someone to say something they don’t want to. Just like the state can design its flag, create a state motto, etc., it can design the look of its official documents and seals.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Makes me wonder, if the Buddhas of Bamiyan were in America, could we spend government funds to maintain them?

  • Guest

    Yes, of course. We’re not the Taliban. The government would have a secular purpose in preserving these historical artifacts that would be more than 1,000 years old.

  • Bill Santagata

    Of course. We’re not the Taliban. The government would have a secular purpose in preserving these historical artifacts which would pre-date the formation of the United States by more than 1,000 years.

  • http://knottiesniche.com/ Knottie

    No sadly I am not. this issue has been heard in courts before. It was found to not be a religious symbol but a cultural one.

  • aaron

    While this lawsuit has angered many within Oklahoma, it is especially troubling
    for David Wilson, Choctaw tribal member and the conference superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. The OIMC serves as the governing body of Methodist churches in Oklahoma with predominantly Native congregations. According to Wilson, the roots of the Methodist Church in Oklahoma can be traced back to the times of the forced removal of Southeastern tribes to Indian Territory in the 1830s.

    “We consider ourselves the Mother Church of Methodism for this state,” said Wilson. “For us to see another Methodist pastor file this and talk about Native folk being pagan—and this particular piece of art being pagan—that was very troubling for us, considering the long, long history that tribes have had with the Christian Church and in particular for us, the Methodist Church.”

    Wilson said that other Methodist ministers have been calling him to express their support to the OIMC.

    “People have called me to express their dismay, disappointment and apologies,” said Wilson. “They said, ‘We know we can’t apologize for what one person did. Just know that the majority of us do not have anything to do with that or feel that way.’ I appreciated those calls.”

    Wilson’s ministry work includes teaching other ministers about Native American culture, which includes visits of tribal dances and ceremonies such as cedarings. He said Cressman could benefit from one of his courses.

    “I would implore him to become better educated about Native American people and about our history and religions and, in particular, our long-standing relationship with the Christian Church,” Wilson said.