When the city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, decided to hold its annual Paint the Plow event — an initiative in which community schools are invited to paint snow plows — officials likely had no idea that the art project would devolve into a battle over the separation of church and state.
But that’s exactly what happened after an atheist’s complaint led officials to ask students at Sioux Falls Lutheran Elementary School and Sioux Falls Lutheran High School to rework the faith-based messages they had painted on the plows.
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.”
These were religious messages that local atheists said were entirely inappropriate on city-owned equipment.
And after Siouxland Freethinkers board member Eric Novotny noticed the designs, he 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.
While this wasn’t the first time that students had painted religious themes on city snow plows, it was the first time that a First Amendment complaint had been waged.
As a result, Sioux Falls told the schools that they could repaint their plows, but assistant principal Sarah Sailer said there simply isn’t time.
So, she instructed the city to paint over the designs.
A statement from the city noted that the program allowed students at schools across the community to paint and design one plow, but that the Siouxland Freethinkers had issued a formal complaint about the two religious-themed plows.
“The City respects the various views and is evaluating procedures and guidelines for the Paint the Plows program going forward,” the statement read. “All the parties appear interested in discussing the concerns raised and developing a process that would allow the Program to display student artwork in the future.”
(H/T: Argus Leader)