Court rejects compelled religious speech challenge to Oklahoma license plates

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Cressman v. Thompson2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68236 (WD OK, May 16, 2012), and Oklahoma federal district court rejected a claim by an Oklahoma driver that the picture on the state’s standard license plates compel him to express a message contrary to his religious beliefs.  The plates carry the image of a statue of a Native American shooting an arrow into the sky. Plaintiff alleges that the image retells the story of a Native American who believed in multiple deities, the divinity of nature and the ability of humans to use sacred objects to convince gods to alter nature. The court concluded, however:

A reasonable viewer simply could not glean a religious message from the Native American image on the license plate or impute such to the driver. Observers of the image “are presented with a symbol that has various and somewhat imprecise ideas associated with it.” … They are not presented with a “particularized message” that is likely, much less highly likely to be “understood by those who view[] it.”