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Indian Image OK on License Plate

Indian Image OK on License Plate
August 06
10:08 2015

 A Christian pastor believes an Indian image on Oklahoma license plates violates his right to free speech.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals disagrees, ruling on August 4 that Keith Cressman failed to show how the “Sacred Rain Arrow” on the plates qualified as “speech.” The plates were meant only to represent the state’s desire to promote its Native American heritage to tourists, the court opined.

Cressman had argued that he was forced to display the symbol – by acclaimed Apache free speech big picartist Allan Houser – though it violated his religious beliefs.

Houser’s image depicts an American Indian shooting an arrow into the sky. The image is inspired by an Apache legend of a warrior shooting an arrow skyward, carrying his people’s prayers for rain.

“Though we conclude that the Native American image is in fact symbolic speech, this does not avail Mr. Cressman’s compelled-speech claim,” the court determined. “That is because the image’s message is one Mr. Cressman has explicitly indicated is not objectionable to him—that is, a message conveying Oklahoma’s Native American culture and heritage.”

Cressman is not forced to use the plates with the Indian image, he can purchase a “specialty plate,” albeit at a higher cost, the court said.

Cressman had filed a lawsuit in 2011.

The court said Cressman’s reason for opposing the plates is that he sees it as a link to “pantheistic Native American folklore.”

A reasonable person would not come to the conclusion that the license plates promoted Native American religious beliefs over Christianity, District Court Judge Joe Heaton had ruled in January, 2014.

The appeals court upheld Heaton’s earlier dismissal of Cressman’s suit.

Houser, a Chiricahua Apache, was a sculptor, artist and book illustrator. He was born in Oklahoma in 1914 – seven years after “Indian Territory” became the state of Oklahoma. He died in Santa Fe in 1994.

He was one of the most renowned native painter and sculptor of the 20th Century.

His work can be found at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Portrait Gallery.


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