A federal judge in Oklahoma rejected a Christian minister’s suit complaining that the state’s license plate depiction of a Native American shooting an arrow was against his religious beliefs.
"Viewed by itself, all the disputed image involves is a depiction of a Native American shooting a bow and arrow," U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton wrote in the order. "There is nothing about the image that suggests he believes in one god, no god, or several."
Pastor Keith Cressman claimed that as a Christian he could not display the license plate image of an Apache warrior, taken from the Allan Houser sculpture “Sacred Rain Arrow,” arguing that it violated his First Amendment rights. But the judge saw no inherent religious implication in the image.
Cressman's attorney, Nathan Kellum, who worked for the Memphis-based Cnter for Religious Expression, said he and his client planned an appeal.
"Mr. Cressman does not want to promote the 'Sacred Rain Arrow' image ... on his vehicle. It matters not whether the court shares his objection, Mr. Cressman should not be required to convey the state's message on his personal property against his will and conscience," Kellmun said in a written statement.
"He has no qualms with anyone else displaying the image," Kellum reassured the media. "The concern is not that he sees it but that he has to say it."
The judge wrote in the order Cressman had researched Houser’s sculpture, of which the license plate image is not an exact copy, and concluded that Oklahoma meant to send the same message the artist did—a faulty assumption.
Furthermore, "Oklahoma provides a simple, inexpensive, and readily available alternative, in the form of a specialty plate, for those who object to any aspect of a standard plate,” the order added. “An option which plaintiff has exercised both before and since his concerns with the standard license plate arose.”
The “Sacred Rain Arrow” image was chosen for the plate five years ago, and is sported by 2.9 million cars roaming around the state. Cressman can choose to buy a specialty plate, with many options offered including “In God We Trust,” but that would cost an additional $18 to $35 annually. Kellum and his client think it should be free.
Many Oklahomans seem to think the Apache warrior is shooting the sky to bring down rain. To Judge Heaton, any religious implication didn’t hold water.