September 03, 2009

Oklahoma plate violates First Amendment?

Call the ACLUAs the American Civil Liberties Union ponders whether to sue the state for violating the constitutional prohibition against placing a Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol, it may want to consider another such violation.

On Aug. 1, 2008, the Oklahoma Tax Commission approved a new license plate design featuring the "Sacred Rain Arrow" sculpture by the late Allan Houser. That art, now at Gilcrease Museum, has been described by a museum spokesperson as "depicting a young Apache warrior who was selected in a time of drought to shoot a 'rain arrow' into the sky, to bring his people's prayers to their gods so that they would get rain."

This interpretation comes from Apache literature, which describes the legend of a boy-god who shoots an arrow that kills a dragon, immediately after which, "storm clouds swept the mountains, lightning flashed, thunder rolled, and the rain poured." The religious symbolism of this sculpture is undeniable.

The commission missed the spiritual meaning imprinted on its new license plates. It probably never considered that the design promotes the polytheistic religion of a Native Americans tribe.

So, notwithstanding further action by the ACLU, as you drive around the state Capitol next year to admire the new Ten Commandments structure, especially the commandment that reads, "You shall have no other gods before me," just remember that somewhere on the rear-end of your vehicle is a grand tribute to polytheism.

Herb Van Fleet, Tulsa
Comment:  Wow, this is a stretch.

For starters, the "Apache literature" describes simple cause-and-effect (arrow triggers natural phenomena) with no references to the supernatural. There's also the issue of Houser's intent. He based the statue on a legend, but he may have intended a generic message such as hope or reaching for the sky.

More to the point, few people know about the statue's link to religion. Banning the plate would be like banning a Biblical phrase--"lion's den," "wages of sin," "good Samaritan"--from government documents. Even though many people wouldn't recognize the phrase's origin, someone might impute a religious meaning to it.

Apache = polytheistic?

I don't know if the Apache religion is truly polytheistic. Some Natives might say that the supernatural beings in their religion are all aspects of one "Creator" or "Great Spirit." Would Van Fleet feel better if an Apache assured him there's only one God?

But okay. I wouldn't want Oklahoma's license plate to indoctrinate Van Fleet the way conservative Christianity tries to indoctrinate everyone. If he'll agree to removing every mention of God from our coins, seals, statues, buildings, and the Pledge of Allegiance, I'll agree to removing Houser's image from the plate. Deal?

For more on the subject, see Indian Chosen for Oklahoma Plate and Allan Houser's Art.


winterfoxf said...

I wonder if similar arguments will arise against the proposed California Indian license plates...

should be interesting to see how this pans out

dmarks said...

It's the ACLU in favor of censorship. Once again.

Herb Van Fleet said...

Since a letter to the editor is limited to 250 words, it’s kinda hard to get into the details of the Apache belief system. For that, you might want to check out:, which also includes the legend referred to in the piece, and is the “Apache literature” that was relied on.

Second, the sculpture is titled, “Sacred Rain Arrow.” Now, the word “sacred” is defined (in as:

1. devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated.
2. entitled to veneration or religious respect by association with divinity or divine things; holy.
3. pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to secular or profane ): sacred music; sacred books.

Therefore, the Sacred Rain Arrow is as religious a symbol as is the giant Praying Hands sculpture sitting in front of Oral Roberts University. How about putting that image on a license tag?

Finally, the idea behind the piece was simply to point out the hypocrisy of Oklahoma’s legislators in failing to recognize that their almighty Jesus is not the only deity out there.

So, the point, which you and others obviously missed, has nothing to do with the ALCU, or getting God off our coins, or getting Chaplains out of the military. It’s about ignorance and a narrow world view. It’s about jumping to conclusions without first yelling Geronimo!

Herb Van Fleet
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Rob said...

Have the advocates for a California Indian license plate suggested a particular design? If it showed a rock-art figure, for instance, people could say it was a depiction of a spirit being. They could use Van Fleet's argument and claim it was a First Amendment violation.

The ACLU isn't involved with the Oklahoma license plates. Van Fleet mentioned an ACLU battle against posting the Ten Commandments and implied the organization was hypocritical. Since the Ten Commandments are much more religious in nature than Houser's statue, I don't see it.

Rob said...

Sorry, Herb, but I still don't buy it. For my response to your comments, see Sacred Rain Arrow Is Religious?

Anonymous said...

As a Christian it offends my conscience! I thought the icon was an Islamic Mongol. I'll have to get a custom tag. What a scam! This better be rectified before the Christian GOD finds out!. But by whom? There are to many politically correct sissies in our pulpits!