Earlier this month, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the city held an event where students from local schools and youth groups painted the plows the city will use when the snow hits.
But when two of the plows, painted by Christian schools, had religious messages, the city had to rethink their plan:
Students at Lutheran High School of Sioux Falls spent time and effort designing the plow blade they submitted for the city’s Paint the Plows event, Principal Derek Bult said. Painted red and adorned with the phrase “Jesus Christ” in white, the religious symbolism was hard to miss.
[Siouxland Freethinkers board member Eric] Novotny contacted the city attorney’s office after seeing Lutheran High School’s “Jesus Christ” plow blade, and another painted with the phrase: “Happy birthday Jesus.” The latter was submitted by elementary and middle school-aged students at Sioux Falls Lutheran School.
The threat of a lawsuit wasn’t even suggested, but the city didn’t want to take any chances. They gave the students who designed those plows the chance to re-paint them… though neither school took the city up on its offer.
Now, the Mayor is backtracking:
Mayor Mike Huether says he will not paint over two snow plow blades that have “Jesus” painted on them, unless he gets a court order. He made those comments on a local radio program on Tuesday morning.
[City attorney] Pfeifle called this a sensitive issue because it deals with freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the separation of church and government — aka The Establishment Clause. He said city leaders are trying to find some middle ground to make everyone happy.
The smart thing to do would’ve been to set limits on what could be drawn on the plows beforehand… (I mean, who didn’t foresee this problem?)
In any case, the question now is whether the Siouxland Freethinkers plan to pursioux a lawsiouxt. I reached out to Eric and Amanda Novotny from the group last night to find out what their next steps would be and they told me this:
The Mayor had said that he would like to get all involved parties together to have a discussion. We are more than willing to take part in such a discussion, however no invite has been extended as of yet. Our main goal is for there to be some established guidelines for the Paint the Plows program moving forward, so that city equipment isn’t used for proselytizing again in the future. We will be consulting with some national organizations to see what direction they recommend us going in.
Who knows if the Mayor will reach out. I promise you that if nothing happens, though, Christian groups around the country will pressure their local governments to let them paint the plows, too.
(Image via Lutheran High School of Sioux Falls. Portions of this article were published earlier)