Spearfish developer Rand Williams has yet to start pouring footings for his giant statue of Jesus on top of the Thoen Stone monument or Lookout Mountain or anywhere else around Spearfish. City administrator Joe Neeb is wisely keeping city government on the safe side of the wall of separation between church and state, declining to make the Rio-North statue a public meeting agenda item. City commissioner Doug Schmit has First Amendment concerns and South Dakota Constitution concerns as well:
Doug Schmit, who revealed he is a “fairly religious person” believes in the separation of church and state.
His statement isn’t just a belief, it upholds and addresses the South Dakota Constitution that defines the boundaries organized religious sectors and state or federal government must remain “separate” because it excludes those who do not share those beliefs. The document that dictates this civil liberty specifically states “…. no money or property of the state shall be given or appropriated for the benefit of any sectarian or religious society or institution.”
“But, that doesn’t mean my mind is closed on this … I just want you to know that there is a lot of doubt out there,” he said referring to comments he’s heard from people [Heather Murschel, "Should Spearfish Be Home to 'Christ' Statue?" Black Hills Pioneer, 2013.08.10].
Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State passes through South Dakota on vacation and says taking no official action on Big Rock Jesus is a constitutional no-brainer:
Erecting a 35-foot-tall statue of Jesus on city-owned land would definitely violate the separation of church and state. The city might as well erect an enormous sign reading, “Please sue us now!”
...The bottom line is that the city of Spearfish cannot legally aid and abet a wholly devotional display like this. If the council holds a meeting about the matter, it should make that clear.
There are a lot of great attractions in South Dakota – and a fair amount of roadside kitsch. If Williams wants to add a large Jesus statue to the state’s tourist draws he is free to do that – on his own dime and without help from the government. [Rob Boston, "Jesus Of South Dakota?: Spearfish Man Seeks To Erect Large Statue Of Christ On Public Land," Americans United, 2013.08.26].
Comments in the Spearfish paper are mixed but leaning against erecting Jesus on public property. A Ph.D. student in religious studies says towering religious erections may come across as triumphalist and exclusive in a community aspiring for pluralism. Even Pat Powers will likely find such a statue, since it clearly would look like a giant phallic symbol with arms (but some people see themselves in everything around them; see also psychological projection).
Even if Williams backs away from seeking placement on public land, he should roadtest his statue idea with his neighbors first. Call Raven Industries, get them to stitch together an extra tall AirDancer with a halo on top, and set it to blowing and waving over the Passion Play Amphitheater for a week, see what people think!