May 19, 2012

Oklahoma license-plate challenge dismissed

Back in 2009, I reported on a legal case in two postings:

Sacred Rain Arrow Is Religious?
Oklahoma Plate Violates First Amendment?

Now the courts have ruled. Fortunately, they upheld my position.

Okla. Man Establishment Clause Effort to Challenge Oklahoma’s Indian-Shooting-Arrow License Plate Fails

Here's plaintiff's argument against the license plate:His claims are based on the alleged effects of an image he alleges to be based on a sculpture called “Sacred Rain Arrow.” The image appears on the State of Oklahoma’s standard vehicle license plates. As described by plaintiff, the sculpture “depicts a young Native American shooting an arrow towards the sky with the hope of calling for rain from the ‘spirit world.’” It is based, plaintiff states, on a Native American legend in which a warrior went to a medicine man during a drought, convinced him to bless his bow and arrows and then shot his arrows into the sky, hoping to gain favor with the rain god. Plaintiff asserts that “the image depict[s] and communicate[s] Native American religious beliefs in contradiction to his own Christian religious beliefs.” Because the “message, connotation and purpose” of the sculpture and the license plate with its image are “antithetical to Cressman’s sincerely-held religious beliefs,” plaintiff alleges he cannot display the image on his vehicle. He “wants to remain silent with “images, messages, and practices that he cannot endorse or accept,” and does not want his car to serve as a billboard for them.And the court's response to him:Plaintiff assumes, with minimal discussion, that he is being required to disseminate an ideological message. Having examined the State’s standard license plate, which is described in the First Amended Complaint and a photograph of which is attached as Exhibit D to plaintiff’s preliminary injunction motion, the court disagrees.

The challenged image “depict[s] a statute of a Native American shooting an arrow into the sky.” Plaintiff argues that it communicates a message about Native American religion. ... However, plaintiff states in his amended complaint that he “learned that the image on the license plate was a depiction of a sculpture called ‘Sacred Rain Arrow’ by Allen Houser,” and “learned” that the sculpture was based on a Native American Legend. Nothing on the tag indicates that the image is based on a sculpture or that the arrow is sacred or the reason why it is being shot. While plaintiff clearly links the image to the sculpture and legend, nothing on the license plate, itself, makes or suggests that connection. It is only through further independent research of the sort plaintiff alleges he undertook, that a person would learn the underlying facts and circumstances which plaintiff alleges to constitute the offensive message.
Comment:  To give another example, suppose a government-run museum depicted Galileo's astronomical discoveries. These discoveries contradicted the Catholic Church's teachings about the Earth being the center of the universe. Someone could claim the government was taking a position against his Christian religion--declaring his church to be false.

But you'd have to delve into Galileo's and the Church's history to come up with that tortured reasoning. It isn't self-evident in a display of Galileo's factually true findings. Therefore, it doesn't rise to the level of establishing one religious belief over another.

A Christian cross would be a different story. That symbol has a religious meaning that's clear to the average person. That would rise to the level of establishing one religious belief over another.

The same would be true of a more obvious Native religious image. Perhaps a dancing kachina, and certainly a deity such as White Buffalo Woman or Gitche Manitou. The government hasn't and shouldn't put them on anything official.

In short, no one is saying Christianity is bad and Native religions are good. They're saying an overt religious symbol is unacceptable but art with subtle religious implications is okay.

So Cressman loses and rightly so. Better luck next time, fella.

For more on what Christians believe, see Christian Flyer Calls Lakota Rite "Satanic" and Library Blocks "Occult" Native Websites.

1 comment:

dmarks said...

Of course it does not violate the First Amendment. It is not the forcing of a state religion. It is freedom of expression.