Among its many tributes to fallen soldiers, Minnesota’s Belle Plaine Veterans Memorial Park will soon host a satanic monument.
Next month, the Satanic Temple of Salem, Massachusetts plans to place “a black cube with inverted pentagrams, a soldier’s helmet and a plaque honoring veterans who died in battle” at Belle Plaine, reports local NBC affiliate KARE 11.
The 2 x 2 x 3-foot steel monument will occupy a place in Belle Plaine’s “limited open forum” space, in which “private citizens or groups can apply to put temporary monuments, as long as they honor veterans.”
This open forum is itself the result of a long local battle over how to handle issues of both free speech and separation of church and state when it comes to honoring veterans at Belle Plaine.
The debates began when the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to sue the city after it allowed Belle Plaine to host a “modest but poignant 2-foot steel war memorial called ‘Joe,’ which features a cross in its tribute to soldiers,” reports the StarTribune.
Under threat of a suit on grounds of separation of church and state, the city removed “Joe” in January. But when locals then complained at the removal, the city reached a compromise in the form of its “limited open forum,” which allows a rotating cast of ten or fewer memorials of most any provenance so long as they honor fallen soldiers.
This allowed “Joe” to return this month, but also paved the way for all manner of other monuments to stand at Belle Plaine alongside it. And The Satanic Temple was quick to seize this opportunity, applying for a space in the forum and receiving approval from the city.
With approval granted and the monument set to be put in place, local opinion on the matter is predictably divided, yet subdued, at least according to reports.
“Everyone understood this could happen,” Belle Plaine resident Andy Parrish told the StarTribune. “It’s more annoying than it is offensive.”
However, local resident Jessica Ellman told KARE 11 that, “These soldiers fought for our country, and you are going to put a satanic thing next to it. It’s like you are mocking them. I’m not a fan.”
On the other hand, Belle Plaine’s Katie Novotny told the StarTribune that, “If you’re truly a Christian, how can you be offended by someone wanting to honor our veterans even though they don’t believe in the same things we believe in?”
For their part, The Satanic Temple, according to the StarTribune, claims that, “The group does not worship Satan, but instead aims to ‘encourage reason and empathy, reject tyrannical authority and promote justice’ while seeking equity for nonbelievers. Their proposed monument would include an inscription honoring Belle Plaine veterans ‘who fought to defend the United States and its Constitution.’”
As Temple founder Doug Mesner told KARE 11, “It’s certainly better to preserve the First Amendment than to preserve your notions of religious supremacy on public grounds. That’s certainly not what America was founded on and certainly not what our soldiers fought for.”