Wednesday, June 12, 2013

10th Circuit: Native American Legend On License Plate Supports Pastor's Compelled Speech Claim

In Cressman v. Thompson, (10th Cir., June 11, 2013), the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that plaintiff states a plausible First Amendment "compelled speech" claim in objecting to what he views as a religious depiction on Oklahoma's 2009 license plates. The plates include a depiction of a sculpture titled "Sacred Rain Arrow" showing a Native American shooting an arrow toward the sky. The sculpture is based on a Native American legend in which a medicine man blesses a warrior's bow and arrows during a time of drought. Plaintiff Kieth Cressman, a United Methodist pastor, says that the belief in sacred objects, multiple gods and the ability of humans to use sacred objects to convince gods to alter nature represented by the legend all contradict his Christian religious beliefs. He does not want to display those beliefs on his automobile.  The court refused to dismiss the claim, saying that further factual development is necessary to determine whether others would perceive the license plate as conveying the message that Cressman alleges it does. The Oklahoman reports on the decision.

UPDATE: On June 12, the 10th Circuit announced that a clerical error had led to the June 11 decision failing to include a dissent by Judge Kelly.  The court reissued the decision, including the dissent.