Federal judge dismisses Oklahoma pastor's license plate suit

by Matt Dinger Published: January 14, 2014

A federal judge dismissed a Bethany pastor's lawsuit over the state license plate on Tuesday, writing in his opinion, “There is nothing about the image that suggests the man is praying or that the arrow he is shooting is sacred.”

The lawsuit was filed by Keith Cressman, pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Bethany, in November 2011 in Oklahoma City federal court against Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael C. Thompson.

The department issues state license plates for vehicles.

Cressman contended the image on the license plate, first issued in 2009, is based on “Sacred Rain Arrow” by sculptor Allen Houser. The statue is inspired by the story of an Apache warrior who is shooting a sacred arrow carrying his tribe's prayer for rain.

Cressman argued the image conveys a religious message contrary to his Christian beliefs.

The Oklahoma license plate image is not identical to Houser's statue.

U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton wrote that the statue's meaning could only be gleaned by research and “not things a person would ordinarily know from common knowledge or sense just from looking at the image on the license plate.”

“The fact that additional research is necessary to know or identify the message of which plaintiff complains is itself ‘strong evidence' that the image, as such, is not subject to constitutional protection,” Heaton wrote.

The arrow on the license plate is being shot at about a 60-degree angle, Heaton wrote, and not almost vertically as the statue depicts and which is arguably more suggestive of a spiritual purpose.

by Matt Dinger
Court Reporter
Matt Dinger was born and raised in Oklahoma City. He has worked in OPUBCO's News and Information Center since 2006, and has been assigned to the breaking news desk since its formation in fall 2008. He specializes in crime and police reporting.
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