Tenth Circuit Rejects Religious Objector’s Challenge to Oklahoma License Plate

Here is the opinion in Cressman v. Thompson.ah-ok-plate2


1 Opening Brief

2 Appellees Brief

3 Reply Brief

Lower court materials here and here.

Prior Tenth Circuit case here.


Federal Court Affirms Oklahoma School’s Refusal to Allow Native High School Graduate to Wear Eagle Feather on Graduation Cap

Here is the order in Griffith v. Caney Valley Public Schools (N.D. Okla.):

22. Order and Opinion (5-20-15)

Prior materials here.

Magistrate Decision in Griffith v. Caney Valley Public Schools

In which the student is denied the right to wear an eagle feather on her graduation cap. Her graduation from Caney Valley Public Schools, which is just north of Tulsa, is tomorrow.


The School demonstrated that the graduation ceremony is a formal ceremony and that the unity of the graduating class as a whole is fostered by the uniformity of the caps which are the most prominently visible part of the graduation regalia viewed by the audience to the graduation. Prohibiting decoration of any graduation cap by any student for any purpose serves these legitimate interests. Based on the application of these established principles the undersigned finds that Plaintiff has not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on her First Amendment Free Exercise of Religion claim.

Plaintiff’s Motion and Brief

Defendant’s Motion and Brief

20. Objection to Report and Rec (5-20-15)

21. Defs Resp to Obj to RR (5-20-15)

Federal Court Rules for State in Challenge to Oklahoma License Plate

Here is the court’s order in Cressman v. Thompson (W.D. Okla.):

117 DCT Order

How Appealing links to news coverage here.

Prior materials in this case are here, here, and here.


Federal Court Denies Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment in Dispute over Oklahoma Indian Arrow License Plate

Here are the materials in Cressman v. Thompson (W.D. Okla.):

95 OPC Motion for Summary J

96 OTC Motion for Summary J

98 Cressman Motion for Summary J

111 DCT Order Denying Motions for Summary J

This case is slated for trial (!).

Tenth Circuit materials here. Earlier district court materials here.

Tenth Circuit Revives Establishment Clause Challenge to Oklahoma’s Indian Arrow License Plate (UPDATED)

Here is the opinion in Cressman v. Thompson. Update — Now with dissent: 12-6151

An excerpt:

This appeal concerns an image stamped on the standard Oklahoma license plate ofa Native American shooting an arrow toward the sky. Appellant Keith Cressman objects to the image as a form of speech and wishes not to display it on his personal vehicles.But Oklahoma law imposes sanctions for covering up the image, and the state charges fees for specialty license plates without it—fees that Mr. Cressman does not want to pay. Because he must either display the image or pay additional fees, he argues that the state is compelling him to speak in violation of his First Amendment rights.

And the briefs:

1-Cressman Opening Brief

2-Oklahoma Answering Brief

3-Cressman Reply

Lower court materials here.

New Scholarship (In Progress) on the Eagle Act and Religious Freedom

Kathryn Kovacs has posted her draft paper, “Alleviating the Tension between Species Preservation and Religious Freedom,” on SSRN.

Here is the abstract:

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits the taking or possession of eagles and eagle parts. Recognizing the centrality of eagles in many Native American religions, Congress carved out an exception to that prohibition for “the religious purposes of Indian tribes.” The problems with the administration of that exception are reaching crisis proportions. At the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Eagle Repository, which collects dead eagles from around the country and distributes them to members of federally recognized tribes, more than 6,000 tribal members are on a waiting list for eagles. That list grows each year. The wait for a whole golden eagle is now more than four years. A growing number of people in the United States are practicing other religions, like Santeria, that require the use of bird feathers and cannot legally possess the eagle feathers they need for their religion. Frustration with the current system is feeding a burgeoning black market that threatens the viability of eagle populations. Neither of the Eagle Act’s goals are being met: eagles are not adequately protected, and tribal religious needs are not satisfied.

Scholarship in this area has neither fully elucidated the cross-cutting tensions in the administration of the Eagle Act, nor prescribed a concrete solution. This article fills that gap. First, the article examines the tension between species preservation and religious freedom; the tension between accommodating the religious needs of tribal members, but not others with the same religious needs; the tension within the case law itself; and the tension between the government’s effort to accommodate tribal religion and the deep dissatisfaction of the tribal community. This article then proposes a solution: changing the Fish and Wildlife Service’s administration of the exception from permitting individuals to permitting tribes and ultimately turning over much of the administration of the Indian tribes exception to the tribes acting collectively. The article explains how scholarship on indigenous cultural property, community property solutions to the tragedy of the commons, and tribal self-determination support this proposal. Finally, the article shows how this proposal will alleviate some of the tension in the administration of the Eagle Act’s Indian tribes exception.