- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Sioux Falls officials could face a cloudy legal fight over a dispute about religious artwork that students painted on two city-owned snowplows despite a disclaimer that is being added to the plows.

City officials said the disclaimer would be attached to the 27 student-decorated snowplows to show the city isn’t endorsing a particular point of view, but the message doesn’t appear to be enough to satisfy the concerns of the artwork’s critics, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/1Eb4DdR ) reported Sunday.

Students at Lutheran High School and Sioux Falls Lutheran School painted the plow blades as part of the city’s Paint the Plows program. One blade includes the words “Jesus Christ” and the other “Happy Birthday Jesus.”

The Siouxland Freethinkers complained, arguing the religious artwork on publicly owned vehicles violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Following the complaint, Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether on Tuesday said the city wouldn’t be painting over the artwork unless it is legally forced to do so. Two days later, Huether and city attorney David Pfeifle announced the disclaimer would be added to all the student-decorated plows.

Part of the disclaimer reads: “Any message or views expressed are not those of the city or endorsed by the city.”

An attorney working with the complainants, however, says the disclaimer wouldn’t stand legal muster.

Patrick Elliott, with the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote to Pfeifle after the disclaimer announcement saying that “it is inappropriate and unconstitutional for a government entity to display proselytizing Christian messages to its citizens, including on government equipment and facilities.”

The complainants are an area group that calls itself a community of agnostics, atheists, humanists and skeptics.

“Disclaimers have been tried and failed in government display cases,” Elliot said. “There is absolutely no precedent supporting the view that a disclaimer in this context would shield the city from violating the First Amendment.”

Pfeifle on Friday said he had not read Elliot’s letter. At the press conference Thursday, however, Elliot said he is “confident” that the disclaimer would pass a legal challenge.


Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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