By Paula Schlueter Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Two awards announced Dec. 17 by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty have put two LCMS schools back in the spotlight for an incident that took place in October and continues to gain media attention.
The Becket Fund gave its 2014 “Ebenezer [as in Scrooge] Award” (“its lowest honor”) to the city of Sioux Falls, S.D., for asking the two schools — Sioux Falls Lutheran School (pre-K through Grade 8) and Lutheran High School of Sioux Falls — to repaint their entries in the city’s annual “Paint the Plows” contest because of their religious themes.
Twenty-seven of the city’s snowplow blades were painted this fall by students from area schools, and the blades were then displayed in a mall parking lot so that residents could vote for their favorites.
For the first time, a complaint was filed with the city about the two Lutheran entries: the elementary-school students painted a star with the sentiment “Happy Birthday Jesus,” and the high-schoolers painted “Jesus Christ” in the style of the classic Coca-Cola logo, along with “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst,” from John 4:14.
In a story on its website (click here), the Becket Fund acknowledged that “Sioux Falls was our number-one contender for the Ebenezer award after it notified [the private schools] that the city snowplow blades its young students had labored over and decorated would be repainted and censored. Why? Because the students had decided to celebrate the season with — gasp! — artwork celebrating the religious nature of Christmas.
“The city, which had previously accepted religious art, momentarily lost its way when one lone atheist claiming to be part of the Siouxland Freethinkers filed an informal complaint.”
Peter Nord, director of Advancement and Recruitment for Lutheran High School of Sioux Falls, told Reporter his students had “dedicated a lot of time and effort” to their “Paint the Plows” blade and were, naturally, disappointed that the city was asking them to redo it.
Both schools declined the city’s request to repaint because they did not want to “change our message or censor what we believe,” explained Nord.
In fact, all eight of the designs that were submitted by the high-school students before they voted to paint the Coke design had religious themes.
“All eight of them wanted to express the identity of our school, which was that of Christ,” Nord said.
Then, on Oct. 28 — five days after the city asked the schools to repaint their Christian-themed entries — Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether announced that the city would use the plow blades “as is,” but with a disclaimer on each: “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.”
During a radio interview at that time, the mayor reportedly said that he believed all the plows should be repainted at the same time — in the spring, according to Nord.
Now, at year’s end, the mayor’s decision has earned him “an eggnog toast” from the Becket Fund for his “good cheer and common sense.” The lighthearted eggnog toast is given in December to “government officials who got it right.”
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison applauded the actions of Huether and all “elected officials who will support religious liberty and stand with us against intolerance.”
Becket Fund Executive Director Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz said, “When kids are treated like second-class citizens because of their religious beliefs, there’s a problem.
“We’re proud of the students … for sticking to their principles and will continue our work with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and those who defend religious freedom for people of all ages.”
Since fall, the snowplow incident has been shared widely via social media over the Internet, Nord said, and the high school has “received emails from all over the world, including one from South Sudan,” with messages of support for the students and their artwork.
“It’s amazing how powerful our God is,” said Nord, and he shared a view from his pastor, Rev. Aaron Asmus of Memorial Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls: “While the plows might go 50 miles on a city street over the entire year, God has carried that message all over the world.”
Interestingly, Nord added, the city hasn’t had much snow this year, which means the snowplows haven’t been used much and the painted artwork hasn’t yet worn off.
Their messages, he says, are “still there, nice and clear.”
Posted Dec. 19, 2014