Cressman would prefer to “remain silent with respect to images, messages and practices that he cannot endorse or accept,” the appeals court said.
Cressman's attorney, Nathan Kellum of the Center for Religious Expression in Memphis, Tenn., said the decision may boost his client's chances when the case goes back to Heaton for further proceedings.
“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 said.
The Oklahoma attorney general's staff is representing state officials defending the state's position.
“The 10th Circuit decision simply recognizes the importance of the First Amendment and offers another chance to review this case,” said a spokeswoman for the office.
“We'll continue to defend the state's position that Oklahoma's license plate design does not violate Mr. Cressman's constitutional rights.”
The image is of a sculpture at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa by Allan Houser. The change in license plate design began in 2009.
Senior 10th Circuit Judge William Holloway, of Oklahoma City, was one of the three judges of the Denver-based court which issued Tuesday's decision.