Judge rules license plate image does not express religious message

OKLAHOMA CITY, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- A federal judge has rejected an Oklahoma pastor's lawsuit over an image on a state license plate the minister said conveyed a spiritual message.

The Rev. Keith Cressman had claimed the image was inspired by a story of an Apache warrior who shot an arrow carrying his tribe's prayer for rain into the sky, the Oklahoman in Oklahoma City reported Wednesday.


In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton wrote, "there is nothing about the image that suggests the man is praying or that the arrow he is shooting is sacred."

Cressman, pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Bethany, contended the image was based on a statue by sculptor Allen Houser entitled "Sacred Rain Arrow."

Nate Kellum, Cressman's attorney, had argued a license plate "acts as travelling billboard, reflecting the personality, interests and beliefs of the driver."

"Mr. Cressman should not be required to convey the state's message on his personal property against his will and conscience," the attorney wrote.

Heaton said the statue's meaning could only be determined by research and wasn't something that was common knowledge.

"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," the judge ruled.


Heaton noted the arrow on the license plate image is at about a 60-degree angle. The arrow on the statue is being shot almost straight up, suggesting more of a spiritual purpose, he said.

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