Mike Huether has waded into the snowplows-for-Jesus debate; I guess I have to, too.
The City of Sioux Falls let some school kids paint their snowplows. Naturally, some Lutheran kids painted happy Jesus messages (along with one improperly cited Bible verse). The Siouxland Freethinkers suggested religious messages on public equipment is inappropriate. The city lawyers said, "Ah, you may have a point" and asked the kids to repaint the plows.
Then Mayor Mike Huether comes barreling in for some wrongheaded grandstanding:
"I don't want to repaint over those snowplows," Huether said. "To me, we should repaint over all of them at the same time and that's at the end of the snow season."
Huether told me that he hoped to bring together the schools, the Siouxland Freethinkers and city officials to find a compromise.
But Huether seemed adamant that the plow blades wouldn't be removed.
"We are not going to be painting over those plow blades. We will not be painting over them unless I get some Supreme Court case that says that I have to," Huether said.
Heuther is also reluctant to suggest changes to the "Paint the Plows" program for fear of trampling on the First Amendment rights of participating schools.
"That's one of the things we're struggling with," said Huether. "How do we move forward and still allow people to have freedom of expression?" [Greg Belfrage, "Huether: 'We Are Not Painting Over Plow Blades'," KELO-AM Radio, 2014.10.28]
Mayor Huether, we are not talking about First Amendment rights of participating schools. No one has a right to paint messages on public equipment... although if that's what you're positing, don't let Ryan Gaddy and Annette Bosworth near City Hall. The city invites schools to decorate snowplows. The city has complete control of the forum and the content participants post, just as it asserts control over what people can say and when they can say it at City Council meetings. The city has an obligation (which it failed to fulfill in this case) to establish and explain clear criteria for the use of the privilege of decorating snowplows.
Imagine if some smart kids had painted "Vote for Rick Weiland" or "Hillary 2016" on the plows. The city would have shut that noise down right away. We have laws restricting the use of public resources for such politicking.
Better yet, imagine if some Muslim kids painted "Allahu Akbar!" on a plow. Let Greg Belfrage see that holy cry bearing down on him in his rearview mirror, and he'll get why some of us would prefer the city not be toting giant Jesus messages around on its equipment.
Mayor Huether, the city messed up. Instead of acting like Mike Rounds, how about 'fessing up to your error, owning the problem, and saying you'll do better at teaching kids about the First Amendment in full next time around?