, Muskogee, OK

June 12, 2013

Dissent posted over 'rain god' license plate

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal appeals court Wednesday republished an order authorizing a challenge to Oklahoma's "rain god" license plate to add a dissenting opinion that doesn't change the outcome of the case.

Keith Cressman, a Methodist minister from suburban Oklahoma City, claims that plates featuring Allan Houser's "Sacred Rain Arrow" sculpture are an affront to his Christian beliefs. A panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday reinstated Cressman's lawsuit against state officials but failed to publish a dissent by Circuit Judge Paul J. Kelly Jr. until Wednesday.

In the dissent, Kelly calls Houser's sculpture a cultural icon appropriate for Oklahoma's 3 million license plates.

"Native American culture is an integral part of the history of Oklahoma and the United States. Indeed, the name 'Oklahoma' comes from two Choctaw words meaning 'red people,'" Kelly wrote. "Oklahoma has decided to acknowledge its history by portraying a Native American cultural image on its license plate and promoting 'Native America.'"

He said that Cressman's belief that others would perceive an ideological message from the image — particularly Cressman's claim that it promotes "polytheism and/or animism," is not plausible.

Two circuit judges said Cressman should be able to pursue his claim that the "rain god" plate is akin to a state endorsement of a religion. Cressman had argued that it was illegal to cover up a portion of his license plate and that he had to pay extra for specialty tags that did not include the image.

The plate depicts Allan Houser's "Sacred Rain Arrow" bronze sculpture, which is displayed at Tulsa's Gilcrease Museum. The tag's design was adopted in 2008, replacing one that featured the Osage Nation shield. Kelly said in his dissent that the plate was named the best plate of 2009 by the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association.

The sculpture depicts an Indian shooting an arrow skyward to bring down rain, and Cressman said the artwork is based on a Native American legend in which a warrior persuaded a medicine man to bless his bow and arrows during a time of drought.

The Oklahoma legislator who authored the bill establishing the new plate design, current state Treasurer Ken Miller, called Cressman's lawsuit "another case of political correctness run amok."