Protests sparked after The Satanic Temple memorial approved

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BELLE PLAINE, MN – After The Satanic Temple offered to create a monument for inclusion in the city’s free speech area at Veteran’s Memorial Park, the City Council voted unanimously to eliminate the area, bringing an end to a year of controversy.

Just under a year ago, a two foot high sculpture entitled “Joe” was installed at the park. The sculpture shows a soldier kneeling before a cross shaped headstone.

In January, the city removed the sculpture, concerned about potential lawsuits as the park is owned by the city. Concerns were raised that having an explicitly Christian monument could be seen as discriminatory toward other religions.

Area Catholics protested its removal and demanded the monument be returned to the park. Then, in April, the city council voted to create a free speech area in the park and the monument was returned to its location.

Rendering of TST monument [Courtesy TST website]

It was at this point that The Satanic Temple (TST) of Salem, MA petitioned the city for permission to install a monument to honor non-religious service members.

The Satanic Temple (TST) has a history of challenging governmental actions that they see as discriminatory toward atheists and minority religions. Last year, TST created After School Satan clubs to challenge Christian evangelical groups who host after hours clubs inside public schools.

The proposed park memorial was a black cube inscribed with pentagrams and topped with an upside-down soldier’s helmet. A plaque on one side would reportedly read:

In honor of the Belle Plaine veterans who fought to defend the United States and its Constitution.

TST’s monument plan was approved by the city council and would have been the first of its kind installed on public property in the United States. Lucian Greaves, TST’s spokesperson, said Belle Plaine officials didn’t “offer any resistance, to their credit.”

TST said it was creating a monument that would genuinely honor veterans and not designed to simply shock or offend.

[Matt Kowalski]

However, the park’s memorial controversy reached a boiling point Saturday, when dueling protests took place at the venue. An estimated 100 people attended a “rosary rally” organized by America Needs Fatima, a Catholic nonprofit. They prayed and held signs decrying the proposed Satanic monument. Less than ten supporters of the Satanic monument were on hand.

Also attending were area veterans. “I don’t know who’s speaking for the veterans. I don’t know who’s speaking for us. We got no problem. We fought for this country for everybody,” said one local veteran in a video by RUPTLY.

Prior to these protests, the Christian monument was removed from the park by the family who donated. The family members expressed concerns that it could become damaged during the protests.

[Matt Kowalski]

In reaction, Belle Plaine city council voted Monday to rescind the free speech area. The park will now be free of any monuments.

Belle Plaine city officials released a statement Tuesday morning:
Last night, the Belle Plaine City Council voted to rescind a resolution enacted in February, 2017, that allowed individuals or organizations to place and maintain privately-owned displays in a designated space of the city-owned Veterans Memorial Park.

As called-for in the resolution, owners of all privately-owned Park displays currently located in the Park’s designated space are now being given 10 days’ notice to remove the displays. Our local veterans organizations are supportive of this action.

The original intent of providing the public space was to recognize those who have bravely contributed to defending our nation through their military service. In recent weeks and months, though, that intent has been overshadowed by freedom of speech concerns expressed by both religious and non-religious communities.

The debate between those communities has drawn significant regional and national attention to our city, and has promoted divisiveness among our own residents.

While this debate has a place in public dialogue, it has detracted from our city’s original intent of designating a space solely for the purpose of honoring and memorializing military veterans, and has also portrayed our city in a negative light.

Therefore, the Council believes that it is in the best interests of our Belle Plaine community to rescind the resolution, and bring this divisive matter to closure.

In a comment on TST’s Facebook post, announcing the council’s decision, Adam Nagel said, “Funny how Christians and Conservatives tout themselves as champions of the constitution, yet have such a hard time with free speech and separation of church and state.”