Pastor Keith Cressman is suing the state of Oklahoma, claiming the standard Oklahoma license plate violates his freedom of speech. The Oklahoman reports that a lower court judge threw out the case, but an appeals court revived the suit on Tuesday.
Cressman claims the plate violates his Christian beliefs because it depicts a statue of a Native American shooting an arrow blessed by a medicine man into the sky to make rain. The statue is known as “Sacred Rain Arrow.” Oklahoma introduced the redesigned license plates in 2009, and Cressman contends they depict and communicate religious beliefs that contradict his own.
A panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 that a judge in Oklahoma City erred by throwing out Cressman’s lawsuit. The opinion, released yesterday, says Cressman persuasively argued that the license plate constitutes meaningful speech. The court also ruled that the case constitutes “compelled” speech and thus real injury, because Cressman would be fined if he covered up the image, and would have to pay more to obtain alternative licenses plates.
The case highlights the question of what form free speech ought to take in the public square. Judge Joe Heaton, who originally dismissed the case, apparently saw it much like some see challenges to the Ten Commandments in public buildings—petty, whiny, and a waste of time. The appeals court, at least, seems willing to apply consistent logic across the board in its decision that the case ought at least to be heard.