Clearing the Path for Truth

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Right to Be Silent

DENVER, COLORADO — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit last week in the favor of Keith Cressman, a Methodist minister who challenges the standard license plate in the State of Oklahoma for unconstitutionally compelling his speech. The Center for Religious Expression Chief Counsel Nate Kellum argued the case before the Tenth Circuit panel in Denver on behalf of Cressman, a resident of Oklahoma City.  Cressman objects to the State forcing him to place the “Sacred Rain Arrow” image – depicting a Native American shooting an arrow in the sky to draw rain – on his vehicle.   

The standard Oklahoma license plate, introduced in 2009, contains the “Sacred Rain Arrow” image, illustrating a story of an Apache warrior shooting arrows blessed by a medicine man toward the clouds to end a drought. Promoting this idea is disconcerting to Cressman because, as a Christian pastor in an area steeped in Native American tradition, he frequently encounters individuals in his ministry who cling to these beliefs.  In his calling to share the gospel, Cressman does not wish to be an advocate for them.  

“The problem is not that he sees it, but that he doesn’t want to say it,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum.  “Cressman is not seeking to change anyone else’s license plate; he only wants to avoid placing the tag with the objectionable image on his car,” Kellum added. “Whether that is through covering up the image, obtaining an alternative plate without additional cost, or through some other method, Cressman is seeking to avoid the State’s attempt to make him a mobile billboard for its message against his will.”  

Because Cressman cannot legally cover up the image, he is forced to either display the image or pay additional fees for a specialty plate. Cressman decided to file suit to seek an alternative, but a federal district court judge in Oklahoma dismissed the case May 16, 2012. The appellate decision has reinstated Cressman’s case.   

“No one should be forced to communicate a belief he does not hold,” said Kellum. “We are pleased that the Tenth Circuit court acknowledged the constitutional freedoms at stake.”   

Center for Religious Expression is a servant-oriented, non-profit 501(c)(3) Christian legal organization dedicated to the glory of God and the religious freedom of His people.