A dubious honor

I learned through South DaCola that the City of Sioux Falls received a singular “honor.” It was acknowledged by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty for getting “right” the “Happy birthday, Jesus” and “Jesus Christ” messages painted on city snowplows. I don’t view it as much of an honor.

First, consider who’s giving the award. Although it has been involved in litigation on behalf of other faiths, the Becket Fund has been described as a “nerve center of the conservative ‘religious liberty’ campaign.” It brought the Hobby Lobby lawsuit, which I’ve already noted is problematic even if you ignore the concept of creating corporate religious rights. Becket also filed a brief in Town of Greece v. Galloway, where the Supreme Court essentially abandoned longstanding precedent to sanction local government opening meetings with religious prayers. It’s also argued for allowing ministers to use the pulpit to endorse or oppose political candidates and against challenges to the “under God’ phrase added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.

Likewise, I don’t know that the mayor’s position that the snowplows wouldn’t be painted over unless “I get some Supreme Court case (that) says that I have to,” is anything to be proud of. I think there’s plenty of case law that raises serious question about whether this crosses the legal line, although I’ll give City Attorney Dave Pfeifle credit for some creative lawyering. But that doesn’t change or solve the legal issue. Moreover, you have to wonder how strong an advocate the mayor would be if there were snowplows painted with “Allahu Akbar,” “There Is No God,” “Hare Krishna,” or a Darwin fish. Or does anyone think the City would be issuing press releases if it had been praised by the Freedom From Religion Foundation or Americans United for Separation of Church and State?

At bottom, this isn’t about free speech vs. freedom of religion, theism vs. atheism or even schoolchildren expressing what they’ve been taught. This is the City bragging that it’s a poster child for a diehard group of activists who like City property being used to promote one religious viewpoint.

Man is not the only creature who kills for bread, or love, or power, because animals in the jungle do that in various ways, but he is the only creature who kills because of faith.

Hassan Blasim, The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq

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