First Amendment

Man can challenge constitutionality of state's 'rain god' license plate, 10th Circuit


An Oklahoma man can sue the state over its Indian ‘rain god’ license plate on First Amendment grounds, a federal appeals court has held.

Keith Cressman, a Bethany pastor, claims that the license plate violates his religious rights as a Christian.

U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton had dismissed the suit last year on the grounds that Cressman had failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted. But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver reinstated the case in a 2-1 ruling (PDF) on Tuesday, the Oklahoman and the Associated Press report.

“Mr. Cressman’s complaint states a plausible compelled speech claim,” Judge Scott M. Matheson Jr. wrote for the two-judge majority. “He has alleged sufficent facts to suggest that the ‘Sacred Rain Arrow’ image on the standard Oklahoma license plate conveys a particularized message that others are likely to understand and to which he objects.”

Judge Paul J. Kelly Jr., writing in dissent, said that in his view, the complaint doesn’t contain sufficient factual allegations “to ‘raise [the] right to relief above the speculative level.’ “

Cressman’s lawyer, Nathan Kellum of the Center for Religious Expression in Memphis, Tenn., said his client did not want to display an image that communicates a message he finds objectionable.

“He doesn’t want to be forced to say something that he does not want to say,” Kellum told the AP.

Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said in a statement that Pruitt “would continue to defend the state’s position that Oklahoma’s license plate design does not violate Mr. Cressman’s constitutional rights.”

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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