Pastor Says Native American on License Plate Violates his Religion

Earlier this week the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals approved a lawsuit by a Christian pastor against Oklahoma over the state-issued license plate. Why? Let me explain.

The Oklahoma license plate, which was adopted in 2009, features the image of a sculpture by the late Allan Houser called “Sacred Rain Arrow.” It’s based on a based on an ancient Chiricahua Apache legend about a warrior whose bow and arrow was blessed by a medicine man for the purpose of ending a drought. Keith Cressman, an Oklahoma pastor, is arguing that, by being forced to display the tag on his vehicle, he’s being forced to endorse a religious view he does not agree with. People might think that – gasp! – he’s a pagan! Because that would be the worst thing in the world, I guess.

My first reaction to this was, Wow! That’s mad racist! I, mean, I live in Kansas. I have family in Oklahoma. I see cars with Oklahoma plates all the time. Do you know what thought goes through my head precisely zero percent of the time? I never think, ‘Those people must be pagan!’ (Ten percent of the time my thought is, ‘Huh. What are they doing up here?’ The remaining 90 percent is nothing, because who cares?) The license plate always struck me as an homage to a people Europeans treated really terribly. It kind of seems like the least they could do.

So it seems like kind of a jerk move. I cannot believe that anyone actually attributes Apache beliefs to Cressman. Especially when everyone in the state has the same plate. That said, this guy might have a point.

Let’s flip this situation. Let’s say that a state wanted to put a Christian symbol on a license plate that you had to have on your car. Let’s say that, if you don’t want this on your car your only option is to purchase a novelty plate, which costs extra. (This is Cressman’s situation.) Even if the state didn’t mean to promote Christianity, but just wanted to reflect a culture, I don’t know a lot of progressive people that would be cool with that.

That’s not a perfect analogy. The most obvious flaw is that Christianity is the dominant religious culture. People are more likely to just assume you’re Christian than anything else. It’s really not OK for the dominant culture to force itself on others via the state. Separation of church and state can come in handy for everybody, not just religious minorities. As reported in Raw Story:

Still, as Greg Lipper, senior litigation counsel at the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, pointed out, the law in this regard is actually quite clear. The 1977 Supreme Court decision, Wooley vs. Maynard, ruled that New Hampshire could not require its residents to display the slogan “Live free or die” on its license plates if they found it “repugnant to their moral, religious, and political beliefs.”

“The separation of church and state benefits people who are religious as much as it benefits people who have no religion,” Lipper told Raw Story. Though Lipper said he wasn’t familiar enough with Houser’s artwork to know if it had religious meaning, “in this particular instance, it’s enough to say that this plaintiff believes that it does and the state can’t force people to display religious messages on things like license plates.”

Cressman is alleging that being forced to display the plate would imply that he supports religious beliefs that are contrary to his actual beliefs. But what is important to remember right now is that the court hasn’t ruled on any of the facts. The court of appeals just made it so Cressman can have his day in court. Cressman still needs to prove his allegations.

I’ll admit, this case still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And the irony is palpable. It’s not usual for Christians to invoke church-state separation (unless schools are teaching yoga). But, hey. The first amendment belongs to everybody.


Image credit: Flickr


Laura T.
Laura T4 years ago

hey don't bitch monotheists god is on money&in the damn pledge of allegiance(added no less!!!!!)suck it up every polytheist&native American ever had to just to live in our own country.

Cletus W.
Cletus W.4 years ago

I'd like to bring up a point of "approach".

I think all of our insights on this case have benefitted from the discussion between Casey L. and Kevin B. on perceptions, constitional law, etc., etc.

A.) Cogent discussion of sometimes differing viewpoints: GOOD!

Contrast this with Sandra W.'s ideological spew. The initial spew itself and her refusal or inability to defend and discuss it is intellectually lame, at best.

B.) Spewing dogma, religeous or otherwise, in a vacuum: BAD!

Now you tell me, which one of these approaches best exemplifies FoxNews and rightwing Noise Radio? If you chose A.), congratulations YOU are part of this country's most pressing problem! If you chose B.), you may merely revel in the fact that you show the expected traits of nearly ~2 million years of "hominid/homo" evolution.

Just saying.......

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

Christianity is NOT what this man is displaying. Christians are to love others. These stories of these idiots are rewarding bad behavior.

This man just wants his 15 minutes of fame. He could just pick another variety of plate. Virginia has several at not extra cost.

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia4 years ago

More idiocy from the religious right...

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

I would rather be thought of as a Pagan than a christian any day because any religion that requires you to convert non belivers is neither loving or peaceful.

Patricia H.
Patricia H.4 years ago


Karen H.
Karen H4 years ago

Cressman (and the Appeals Court) evidently don’t realize Oklahomans do have a choice of license plates, including one emblazoned “In God We Trust”. He is not being forced to use that plate.
There are three standard plates here in Florida: your county, “In God We Trust”, or the generic “Sunshine State”.
If Cressman can sue the state over a “pagan” symbol, I suppose the pagans can sue over the “In God We Trust” plate.
Does Cressman know that “pagan” is old Roman for “country dweller”? Didn’t have any special (or derogatory) meaning till the Catholic Church decided any country dweller who didn’t follow their beliefs was evil. Same with “heathen”. Somebody who lives on a heath. Yawn.

Terry V.
Terry V4 years ago

oh jeez................................

Paulett Simunich
Paulett Simunich4 years ago

Much ado over nothing......certainly, his congregation doesn't seem to have a problem.......This is a classic case of reading more than what is there....or perhaps thinking to much regarding the license plate.....whatever it is....does not deserve all this attention......

Syd Henley
Syd H4 years ago

I have no doubt that this brain washed religious nut job, Keith Cressman would have had no problem, if in 2009 Oklahoma had adopted a christian symbol for its license plates even though it would have been offensive to some others.
What ever symbol had been chosen, be it based on chiricahua Apache, christian, judaic , islamic, buddhist, hindu or any other mythological religions legends, some narrow minded individual or group, would have found it to be objectionable.
This is why religion (any religion) should and must be completely separated from state and politics in every nation.
The ONLY things shown on vehicle license plates should be the registration numbers and letters and possibly the national or state flag. If folks wish to advertise their religious, political or other personal views and beliefs, there is plenty of available space elsewhere on a vehicle to do so.