Last night, the Belle Plaine (MN) City Council voted to shut down a “free speech zone” in Veterans Memorial Park in order to stop Satanists from installing their monument next to a Christian one.
You might remember that the park had been home to a monument featuring a kneeling soldier in front of a Christian cross. City officials were intent on keeping it there, but because a lawsuit was threatened due to the blatant promotion of Christianity, they had the option of either opening the Park up to other monuments or saying no to all of them. They chose to create an open forum.
The Satanic Temple soon called their bluff and all hell broke loose. The council members clearly didn’t want the Satanic monument to go up in the Park, but they knew they had no choice.
On Friday, they literally removed the kneeling soldier display. Maybe that was to avoid it getting vandalized by protesters over the weekend, but there was reason to think that monument wasn’t coming back.
And now that’s confirmed. The council reversed course on its “free speech zone” during a meet last night:
The free-speech zone in Belle Plaine’s Veterans Memorial Park was quietly eliminated Monday night with the swift, sweeping approval of a 15-item consent agenda.
“Our intent was good… but it just became too convoluted,” said council member Theresa McDaniel.
Now, with the city’s reversal of its original decision, the stretch of grass that was once designated for anyone to place memorials will remain empty, except for the American flag stuck into the ground where “Joe” once kneeled.
There was no public comment and no council discussion regarding the free-speech zone during the council meeting. It was one of 15 items on the consent agenda, which were approved as a batch at the beginning of the meeting.
Smart move on their part, though it has to be frustrating for the Satanists, who were led to believe they could create a monument using their own money that would eventually go up in the Park.
Just to blunt some of the inevitable criticism, none of this is a slap in the face to veterans. If the kneeling Christian statue is important to people, I’m sure some local church can put it up outside the building. And it’s still possible for the city to put a monument in the Park, as long as it’s purely secular.
The city council members weren’t wrong to create a free speech zone, but it’s clear they didn’t want to be in the middle of a proxy religious battle. They were also not wrong to just get rid of all the monuments altogether.
Some Christians will complain… but what the hell else is new? That’s what they do every time their religion is treated on an equal footing with any other belief system. They want special treatment, and they’re not getting it in Belle Plaine.
I asked The Satanic Temple’s spokesperson Lucien Greaves what he thought of last night’s decision, and he told me he appreciated it.
The Satanic Temple is spreading joy throughout rural America where we’ve once again proven that when the Devil comes to town, everyone is a winner.
Not only can the protesters who gathered in Belle Plaine over the weekend to rally in prayer against our monument surely claim victory (as our memorial will now not be placed in the veteran’s park), but our secular allies will see reason to celebrate also; The offending cross — the origin of this entire controversy — has been removed from the park grounds as well. And if nobody’s allowed to celebrate their exclusive access to speech in a public forum, maybe each side can learn to appreciate an environment where they’re not constantly affronted by homages to the other’s religious opinions.
If we can never truly respect pluralism, perhaps we can benefit from mutual disgust.
That last line is the kind of happy optimism I’ve come to expect from Satanists. Gotta love it.