Federal appeals court allows challenge to Oklahoma 'rain god' license plate

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] that an Oklahoma man had stated a First Amendment [text] compelled speech claim when he challenged Oklahoma's "rain god" license plates. Oklahoma's standard vehicle license plates depict a sculpture of a Native American shooting an arrow toward the sky, "hoping the 'spirit world' or 'rain god' would answer the people's prayers for rain" during a drought. The suit was filed by an Oklahoma man whose "historic Christian beliefs" contradict the license plates speech. The court said, "The constitutional harm of compelled speech—'being forced to speak rather than to remain silent'—'occurs regardless of whether the speech is ideological.'" The judgment reversed and remanded the dismissal [opinion, PDF] of the lawsuit by the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma [official website] .

License plates have caused controversies regarding First Amendment rights. In January North Carolina announced a plan to appeal a ruling that found "Choose Life" license plates [JURIST report] unconstitutional. A permanent injunction to ban the production of the license plates was issued. Judge James Fox of the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina [official website] said "[t]he State's offering a 'Choose Life' license plate in the absence of a pro-choice alternative constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment." In 2008 a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Arizona residents should be able to purchase specialty license plates [JURIST report] bearing the slogan "Choose Life." A week prior to that ruling a federal judge ruled that the state of Missouri cannot deny an anti-abortion group's application for a specialty license plate with an anti-abortion message [JURIST report].

 

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