Belle Plaine faces devil of a lawsuit

| May 10, 2019 | 0 Comments

They’re back.

Almost two years after being denied a spot for a satanic-themed veterans memorial in the city of Belle Plaine, the Satanic Temple is suing the city. It doesn’t surprise Father Brian Lynch, pastor of Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine.

“Because there are spiritual forces at work,” Father Lynch said.  

He led local Catholics in opposing the proposed memorial in June 2017, after the Massachusetts-based organization announced Belle Plaine accepted its permit to place the memorial in a “free speech zone” at Veterans Memorial Park. After protests from Catholics and other Christians, the city closed the “free speech zone” that July, preventing the arrival of the proposed memorial, a 23-inch cube with cult images such as pentagrams and an upside-down soldier helmet on top of it. 

“To me it’s sort of analogous to Ouija board stuff,” Father Lynch said about the memorial. “People don’t end up wanting to necessarily do something explicitly Satanic and evil when they start messing around with this stuff. It’s a crack in the door (for the devil).”    

On April 25, after twice in the last two years asking to be reimbursed for money spent on the memorial, the Satanic Temple filed a $50,000 lawsuit against Belle Plaine, the mayor and city council members in U.S. District Court in St. Paul. The Satanic Temple claims the memorial commission was completed, but it wasn’t used because the city backed out of its permit and closed the “free speech zone.” In addition, the temple, which has tax exempt status as a religious organization through the IRS, claims in its lawsuit that the city’s actions violate free speech and freedom of religion.

City officials in Belle Plaine declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“The real core of this case is that the city is doing this for impermissible reasons, and the impermissible reasons are they don’t like the viewpoint and the content of my client’s speech,” said Larry Frost, an attorney in Bloomington who is representing the Satanic Temple. 

Free speech and freedom of religion issues first were raised at Belle Plaine’s Veterans Memorial Park in 2016, when Army veteran and Belle Plaine resident Joseph Gregory, now deceased, made a statue of a soldier on one knee in front of a cross, which the Belle Plaine Veterans Club put in the park. 

Late that year, a Freedom From Religion Foundation member living in the area complained to the city about the statue, arguing the soldier depicted on one knee in front of a cross was a religious symbol.

The Wisconsin-based foundation, which opposes religious symbols on public land, asked the city council to remove the statue in January 2017, which it did. But local veterans and others argued that the statue should be returned, and the next month the city allowed the statue to return by opening a “free speech zone” in the park.

At that point, the Satanic Temple got involved, the city council closed the “free speech zone” and the city removed the soldier statue. 

Now, neither memorial is displayed in the park.

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Category: Local News