BELLE PLAINE, Minn. — Officials in a Minnesota city have agreed to allow the Satanic Temple, which does not believe in a literal Satan, to erect a monument in its Veterans Park after the group applied for inclusion now that a “limited public forum” has been created in the park to allow the presence of a cross grave marker that upset atheists.
“It was discussed during our city council meeting when we authored the policy that groups that were unpopular or otherwise would put monuments in the park,” Belle Plaine City Administrator Michael Votca acknowledged to the Washington Post.
As previously reported, the situation began last year after the Belle Plaine Veterans Club placed a memorial in the park that featured a soldier kneeling before a cross tombstone, such as are seen in some military cemeteries. The display was erected next to an inscribed stone honoring local residents who had lost their lives in various wars, from the Indian War of 1862 to the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) contended that the inclusion of the cross in the display promoted Christianity and failed to represent other religions or those who reject religion. It contended that even though the purpose of the display was not meant to be religious, the cross grave marker made it so, and asked that the symbol be removed since its placement on city property could be construed as government endorsement.
City council met over the matter in January, and members of the Belle Plaine Veterans Club reluctantly agreed to cut the cross off the display. But as the move greatly disturbed area residents, city council members voted in February to create a “limited public forum/free speech zone” in Veterans Park to solve the issue.
“[The limited public forum] ensures that there is no endorsement of religion by the city whatsoever because the memorials that will be put up represent the citizens that put them up,” Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) Doug Wardlow explained.
The grave marker was then welded back onto the monument and returned to the park.
However, seeing an opportunity, the Satanic Temple soon applied to have its monument placed in the park, and city officials said they had to allow it because of the forum status.
The display is described as a “black steel cube with embossed inverted pentagrams with inlaid gold on four sides. An inverted helmet rests on the top of the cube. A plaque on one side of the cube reads: ‘In honor of Belle Plaine veterans who fought to defend the United States and its Constitution.’”
“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,” Satanic Temple leader Doug Mesner, who goes by the name Lucien Greaves, told the Star Tribune.
As previously reported, the Satanic Temple launched a nationwide targeted effort last year to spawn “After School Satan” clubs in elementary schools that allow Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News clubs.
The organization likewise sought to place Satanic literature in schools in Delta County, Colorado in 2016 after it took issue with a Bible distribution by Gideon International. It attempted to do the same in Florida in 2014 when a Christian ministry made Bibles available to high school students on “Religious Freedom Day.”
The Satanic Temple similarly launched an effort to erect an homage to Satan on the grounds of the Oklahoma capitol building in 2013 after the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the presence of a Ten Commandments monument at the location.
According to its website, the “non-theistic” Satanic Temple does not believe in Satan at all, but only views the devil as a metaphor and a “symbol of the eternal rebel.” Some consider the group as essentially an atheist effort to make a point about religion.
“[W]e do not promote a belief in a personal Satan,” its FAQ section explains. “To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions.”