Supreme Court declines case over Indian symbol on license plate

The Oklahoma license plate features the Sacred Rain Arrow sculpture by Apache artist Allan Houser (1914-1994). Image from Oklahoma Tax Commission

The Indian image on Oklahoma's license plate will stay put following an order issued by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

Without comment, the justices rejected a petition in Cressman v. Thompson. That means a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in favor of the state will stand.

The plate features the "Sacred Rain Arrow" sculpture by the late acclaimed Apache artist Allan Houser. Keith Cressman, a pastor, objected to the image, saying he was forced to display it in violation of his religious beliefs.

The 10th Circuit, however, said Cressman failed to show how the image qualified as "speech." The court determined that it merely represents Oklahoma's desire to promote its Native American history to tourists.

Sacred Rain Arrow, a bronze sculpture by the late Apache artist Allan Houser, welcomes visitors to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo from Facebook

"Though we conclude that the Native American image is in fact symbolic speech, this does not avail Mr. Cressman’s compelled-speech claim," Judge Joe Heaton wrote for the majority. "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 required to use the plate on any of his vehicles. He can purchase a specialty plate, albeit at a higher cost.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Cressman v. Thompson.

10th Circuit Decision:
Cressman v. Thompson (August 4, 2015)

District Court Decision:
Cressman v. Thompson (January 14, 2014)

Prior 10th Circuit Decision:
Cressman v. Thompson (June 11, 2013)

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10th Circuit rejects challenge to Indian image on license plate (8/5)
Judge dismisses case over Indian image on license plate (1/15)
10th Circuit revives case over Indian image on license plate (6/12)

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