A veteran cemetery is now the frontline for a constitutional debate after Belle Plaine, Minn., created a “Free Speech” zone where any religious memorials can be placed.
In January, the City Council ordered the removal of a statue depicting a soldier kneeling at a cross, citing complaints that it violated the separation of church and state. The removal ignited outrage as hundreds of citizens, some of them veterans, rallied to return the cross.
A crowded council met the following month to ask for the cross’s return. Instead of reinstalling the cross at the original location, council members voted to form a “free speech” zone — a space that permits anyone of any religion to apply to place a memorial. The only criteria is that it must “honor veterans.”
The idea of an all-encompassing religious space was quickly tested.
The Satanic Temple, based in Salem, Mass., planned to install a memorial of their own: a black cube with inverted pentagrams and an upside down military-style helmet.
Part of the Satanic Temple’s mission is to “apply for equal representation where religious monuments are placed on public property.”
The plan to install a 23-inch-by-23-inch steel cube came with controversy.
In June, more than 50 Catholics gathered for a prayer in the park. Two days later, about 40 people joined Father Brian Lynch, pastor of Our Lady of the Prairie Parish, advocating against the proposed monument at a City Council meeting.
On Saturday, America Needs Fatima, a Catholic group, protested outside of the Belle Plaine Veteran’s Memorial Park with 250 supporters demanding the Satanic monument not be installed.
“We don’t want Satan in our veterans’ park, or in our communities,” said Robert Ritchie, executive director of America Needs Fatima. “Some veterans were there praying and protesting with us”.
On Monday, the Belle Plaine City Council will consider a proposal that does away with the “Free Speech” zone.
The Satanic Temple did not immediately respond to an inquiry. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.