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Atheist Claims These Christian Designs on City Snow Plows Are an Illegal 'Endorsement of Religion' — but Officials Have a Solution

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"All 27 of the painted plows will be used this winter for their intended purpose..."

Image via Facebook/Lutheran High School of Sioux Falls

The city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has decided not to paint over government-owned snow plows adorned with Christian artwork following a complaint from a local atheist who believes that the religious designs violate the separation of church and state.

City officials reportedly first told students at two Christian schools participating in the annual "Paint the Plow" event — an initiative in which community schools are invited to paint snow plows — that they would have the opportunity to paint over the religious messages, but the schools declined.

But now the city is taking a different course, keeping the artwork intact and adding a disclaimer to each of the 27 snow plows that were designed as part of this year's program.

Image via Facebook/Lutheran High School of Sioux Falls Image via Facebook/Lutheran High School of Sioux Falls

"All 27 of the painted plows will be used this winter for their intended purpose: to provide safe travel to the driving public during snow and ice events," reads a press release announcing the change. "To reinforce the City is not endorsing any particular message or viewpoint expressed on any of the student artwork, each snowplow also will carry a disclaimer."

The text accompanying each piece of equipment will read: "The City of Sioux Falls encourages creativity. This 'Paint the Plows' work is created by students. Any message or views expressed are not those of the City or endorsed by the City."

Placing this message on the plows appears to be an effort to appease Siouxland Freethinkers board member Eric Novotny, who recently noticed the Christian designs that were painted on the plows by students at Sioux Falls Lutheran Elementary School and Sioux Falls Lutheran High School.

Image via Facebook/Lutheran High School of Sioux Falls Image via Facebook/Lutheran High School of Sioux Falls

A play on the traditional Coca-Cola logo, one of the designs was red and white and read, “Jesus Christ” and another plow read, “Happy Birthday Jesus.”

Novotny reached out to the city attorney’s office and complained, according to the Argus Leader.

"That was a clear endorsement of religion, and it was on city property," he told the outlet, though he said that he didn’t threaten to sue.

The city now believes it has found a viable solution to the problem — one that will appease everyone.

"Both sides of the issue have legitimate concerns, and we analyzed every possibility to respect all viewpoints," city attorney David Pfeifle said in a statement. "Our wish is to maintain the artwork while also respecting the rights of those who brought the complaint."

It is unclear how atheist activists will react to the proposed solution.

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