Minister wins appeals court ruling over pagan imagery on license plates

Christian symbols are usually the ones getting sued over in the public square.

This case is different.

A Methodist minister has gotten the go-ahead to move forward with a lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma challenging American Indian religious imagery on the state’s license plates on First Amendment grounds.

oklahomalicenseThe lawsuit, filed by Oklahoma City-area resident Keith Cressman over the image of an Apache man shooting an arrow into the sky to bring rain, was dismissed by a U.S. district judge last year. It was reinstated by a federal appeals court on Tuesday.

“Mr. Cressman’s (lawsuit) states a plausible compelled-speech claim,” the appeals court wrote, according to a Tulsa World article.

“He has alleged sufficient facts to suggest that the ‘Sacred Rain Arrow’ image on the standard Oklahoma license plate conveys a particularized message that others are likely to understand and to which he objects.”

The license plate is based on a bronze sculpture called “Sacred Rain Arrow.”

Cressman’s lawsuit holds the pagan imagery violates the First Amendment by forcing him to use an image that contradicts his Christian beliefs.

According to the Tulsa World, Cressman wants to be able to either cover the image or obtain an alternative plate without cost.

Cressman is being represented by the Center for Religious Expression, based in Memphis, Tenn.

His attorney, Nathan Kellum, told the Tulsa World the appeals court ruling, which referred the case back to the district court that dismissed it, bolsters his argument.

“It appears that the court has recognized the constitutional rights at stake and that Mr. Cressman could very well be suffering from forced compulsion of speech,” Kellum told the paper.

The Oklahoma attorney general’s office is defending the state in the lawsuit.

“The 10th Circuit decision simply recognizes the importance of the First Amendment and offers another chance to review this case,” attorney general’s office spokeswoman Diane Clay told the Tulsa World.

“We’ll continue to defend the state’s position that Oklahoma’s license plate design does not violate Mr. Cressman’s constitutional rights.”

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