A sample version of the Oklahoma license plate with the “Sacred Rain Arrow” sculpture. COURTESY PHOTO

Court: Man can challenge Oklahoma 'rain god' plate

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
06/17/2013 08:48 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – A federal appeals court said on June 11 that an Oklahoma man can sue the state over its Indian “rain god” license plate, ruling that the depiction of a noted sculpture on 3 million license plates could be interpreted as a state endorsement of a religion.

Keith Cressman of Oklahoma City sued a number of state officials in 2011, arguing that Oklahoma’s standard license plate depicted Native American religious beliefs that run contrary to his Christianity. U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton dismissed the lawsuit in May 2012 but the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it on June 11.

Cressman would prefer to “remain silent with respect to images, messages and practices that he cannot endorse or accept,” the appeals court said. The man’s lawyer, Nathan Kellum of the Center for Religious Expression in Memphis, Tenn., said Cressman did not want to display an image that communicates a message “which he finds objectionable.”

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

Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, which is defending the lawsuit, said the appeals court’s decision presents another opportunity to review the case.

“We’ll continue to defend the state’s position that Oklahoma’s license plate design does not violate Mr. Cressman’s constitutional rights,” Clay said.

It is against state law to cover up the image, so to avoid displaying the image Cressman initially purchased a specialty license plate that cost $37 more than the standard plate and had a $35 renewal fee. He then purchased a cheaper specialty license plate, which cost $18 more than the standard plate and cost $16.50 for renewal.

The standard Oklahoma license plate depicts Allan Houser’s “Sacred Rain Arrow” bronze sculpture, which has been on display at Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum for about 20 years. The tag’s design was adopted in 2008 in a license plate reissuance plan that marked the first time in almost 16 years that the state had issued redesigned license plates for the more than 3 million vehicles registered in the state.

The sculpture depicts an Indian shooting an arrow skyward to bring down rain. Cressman’s lawsuit alleged that the sculpture is based on a Native American legend in which a warrior convinced a medicine man to bless his bow and arrows during a time of drought. The warrior shot an arrow into the sky, hoping the “spirit world” or “rain god” would answer the people’s prayers for rain.

According to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center website, “the piece depicts a young Apache warrior shooting his arrow towards heaven with the hope of carrying a prayer for rain to the Spirit World.”

Oklahoma’s previous license plate featured the Osage Nation shield in the plate’s center. The “Sacred Rain Arrow” sculpture is featured on the far left hand side of the new plates.

The appeals court’s decision says Cressman “adheres to historic Christian beliefs” and believes it is a sin “to honor or acknowledge anyone or anything as God besides the one true God.”

He eventually decided not to pay the additional fees but to cover up the image on the standard plate without obscuring letters, tags or other identifying markers on the plate. He said state officials told him it was illegal to cover up any part of it and he might have to pay a $300 fine.

Cressman is still paying additional fees for specialty license plates on two vehicles registered in the state but “does not want to incur extra expense to avoid expressing a message contrary to his religious beliefs,” the decision states.

“Mr. Cressman’s complaint states a plausible compelled speech claim,” it concludes. “He has alleged sufficient 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.”

State Treasurer Ken Miller, who authored the license plate reissuance legislation while serving in the Oklahoma House, said the lawsuit ‘is another case of political correctness run amok.”

“I am proud of my Christian heritage and the rich heritage of our state, which is appropriately honored with the beautiful Allan Houser sculpture on the license plate.” Miller said in a statement.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
08/29/2014 04:09 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix will be selling subscriptions and merchandise Sat. Aug. 30, 2014 during the 62nd Annual Cherokee National Holiday. Come visit with staff members from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Courthouse Square and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. inside the Cherokee Nation Tribal Complex during it's annual open house. Scroll through the photos to see when and where each staff member will be.
BY JAMI MURPHY
08/29/2014 01:20 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During the Cherokee National Holiday weekend, Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses officials unveiled plans to build the Cherokee Springs Plaza, a travel destination that will include venues for dining, shopping and gaming. An artist’s rendering shows the complex including retail spaces, restaurant sites, auto sales lots, office spaces, a convention center, two hotels and a casino. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said purchasing the former Cherry Springs Golf Course property and the vacant land parallel to Highway 62 was a business decision of CNB “knowing that anytime they do anything it’s first class.” “It was the largest contiguous piece of property left in the capitol of the Cherokee Nation, and they’ve been on the drawing board for almost a year now with some of the best land developers in the country coming up with their plan to make this a showpiece in not only all of Indian Country, but I think it’s going to be a showplace for Oklahoma,” Baker said. [BLOCKQUOTE]The approximate 150 acres will bring more traffic to Tahlequah and more attention to the CN, he said. “Just be an awesome, awesome development for this part of Oklahoma,” Baker added. When officials unveiled the project, they said there would be spots for approximately six national restaurants. “I don’t know anybody in this part of the country that hasn’t said ‘I wish we had this’ or ‘I wished we had that.’ People don’t realize the dollars that go to Muskogee or go to Tulsa to just go out to dinner, and we think we can reverse that to where folks from Muskogee are going to be coming this way,” Baker said. “Folks from Tulsa, they can play golf. They eat at our restaurants and eventually stay at our hotel. It’s just going to be a destination of a mixture of fine dining, shopping, a casino resort, golfing. It’s going to tie everything together here at the Cherokee Nation.” Baker said the space would also include a convention center so people who often use convention centers at hotels in the Tulsa area can stay closer to home. He added that CNB Executive Vice President Chuck Garrett had much to do with what the CN envisioned for the property and was the “perfect fit to carry the ball.” Garrett said he’s looking forward to helping execute Baker’s vision for the property. “As chief said, I think that for the first time the citizens of Tahlequah and Cherokee County are going to have the entertainment and amenities that they deserve. They’re no longer going to have to travel to Tulsa, Muskogee or other larger cities outside of the area to enjoy a restaurant or some shopping opportunities that they’ve previously had to travel for,” he said. “We also hope to be providing a venue for entertainment and other community activities within a conference center that will be attached to a hotel.” The project will be completed in three phases, Garrett said. Phase 1 will include the “civil engineering” portion of the project that will consist of road construction and pad sites where potential businesses will be developed. “So our initial efforts will be focused on the engineering and road construction necessary for the development including water, sewer and those sorts of things,” Garrett said. The first thing citizens will see, he said, will be pad sites along the highway that will be the future homes of restaurants. Phase 1 is underway and is expected to be complete in 12 to 18 months. But citizens will see work on the property within the next month, Garrett said. Once everything is complete, Baker said, the CN would continue with its plan to move the Cherokee Nation Immersion Charter School into what will be the former Cherokee Casino Tahlequah, located west of Sequoyah Schools along Hwy 62. “We designed it that way when we built it…so we won’t have two casinos. But when we build the one there (behind Cherokee Springs Golf Course), the one out here (Hwy 62) will become the immersion school,” Baker said. The Cherokee Phoenix will update this story as more developments unfold.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/29/2014 11:40 AM
<a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2014/8/8481_HolidayGuide2014.pdf" target="_blank">Here</a> you will find the schedule of events for the 62nd Annual Cherokee National Holiday.
BY BRYAN POLLARD
08/29/2014 10:23 AM
The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board will be meeting via conference call at 9 a.m. CDT, September 10, 2014. To attend, please use the conference call information listed below. The meeting agenda is <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2014/8/8480_140910_EB_Agenda.pdf" target="_blank">here</a>. Dial-in: 866-210-1669 Entry code: 4331082
BY JOSH NEWTON
08/29/2014 08:31 AM
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BY STAFF REPORTS
08/28/2014 01:21 PM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – The stables are filling up as quarter horse racing returns to Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs on Sept. 6 for a fifth consecutive year. The schedule features 28 days of American Quarter Horse Association, Appaloosa and Paint races through Nov. 8. Races begin at noon every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each day features 12 races. Popularity of the track’s quarter horse racing meet continues to draw some of the most talented people in the sport to WRD. “We are very excited that Eddie Willis and Toby Keeton, the top two trainers in earnings in the United States, will be returning with full stables to compete at this year’s meet,” Jesse Ullery, WRD racing secretary and simulcast manager, said. The 2014 WRD racing schedule features 34 stakes races. Top 10 qualifiers from the non-pari-mutuel Kansas Jackpot Trials and Black Gold Division 350 Futurity Trials previously held on Aug. 23 will be part of the opening race cards for the finals on Sept. 9. Both finals include added money, with the Black Gold Division 350 Futurity Finals guaranteeing $150,000, while $25,000 is promised for the Kansas Jackpot Futurity Finals. Race fans visiting on Sept. 28 will witness the $15,000 added AQHA Zoetis Starter Allowance Challenge, the $27,500 guaranteed AQHA John Deer Juvenile Challenge Finals, the $30,000 added AQHA Red Cell Distance Challenge Finals and the AQHA Adequan Derby Challenge Finals, worth an estimated $32,500. The 400-yard Black Gold Division 400 Futurity Finals for 2-year-olds on Oct. 5 also promises to be an exciting event, adding $150,000 to the pot with $7,500 going to stallion awards. “We have a very competitive stakes program this year for all ages of horses. There is a lot to see,” Ullery said. The $294,625 Black Gold Futurity Championship highlights the meet on Nov. 8. The finale on Nov. 8 also includes the $25,000 Oklahoma Horsemen’s Association Mystery Derby Finals and the Oklahoma Horsemen’s Association Mystery Futurity Finals Grade II, worth $75,000. Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs is located 3 miles east of Claremore on Highway 20. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeecasino.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeecasino.com</a> and click on the Will Rogers Downs tab or call (918) 283-8800.