Appeals court rules man can challenge Oklahoma 'rain god' plate

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 that a judge in Oklahoma City erred by throwing out the lawsuit of Keith Cressman, pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Bethany.
BY ROBERT BOCZKIEWICZ Published: June 11, 2013

An appeals court gave new life Tuesday to a lawsuit of a Bethany pastor who claims an American Indian image on Oklahoma's standard license plates violates his religious rights as a Christian.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 that a judge in Oklahoma City erred by throwing out the lawsuit of Keith Cressman, pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Bethany.

Cressman objects to the image of an American Indian shooting an arrow toward the sky to bring down rain.

He claims the image unconstitutionally contradicts his Christian beliefs by depicting Indian religious beliefs, and that he shouldn't have to display the image.

The appellate judges stated Oklahoma law imposes sanctions for covering up the image, and the state charges more for specialty plates without it.

His lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City seeks a court order allowing him either to cover up the image on his plates or to get a personalized plate for the same cost as a standard license plate.

“Mr. Cressman's (lawsuit) states a plausible compelled speech claim,” the appellate judges wrote Tuesday in a 39-page decision, reversing Judge Joe Heaton's dismissal of the lawsuit.

“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.”

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