Belle Plaine Catholics lead resistance to Satanic Temple veterans monument

| June 14, 2017 | 36 Comments


Controversy around the monument “Joe” in Belle Plaine’s Veterans Memorial Park led the city to change the designation of some of the park’s public land, prompting the Satanic Temple to apply to erect a memorial nearby. Catholics are leading efforts opposing the proposed memorial. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

A black cube with Satanic symbols and an offering bowl has been proposed for Belle Plaine’s Veterans Memorial Park.

And Belle Plaine’s Catholics don’t want it there.

Father Brian Lynch, pastor of Our Lady of the Prairie, gathered for prayer in the park June 3 with more than 50 Catholics. Two days later, about 40 Catholics joined Father Lynch as he testified against the proposed monument before the Belle Plaine City Council. Meanwhile, more than 30 Catholics, including members of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Catholic Watchmen initiative, attended Mass and prayed in eucharistic adoration at the parish.

“Sometimes these things which are evil can really, maybe, wake some people up,” said Father Lynch, who has been pastor of Our Lady of the Prairie since 2015. “We really have to take our faith seriously and live it.”

A rendering of the proposed veterans memorial commissioned by the Satanic Temple for Belle Plaine’s Veterans Memorial Park. Courtesy the Satanic Temple

Commissioned by the Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple, the proposed monument consists of a 23-by-23-inch steel cube engraved with inverted pentagrams on each side. On top of the box sits an upside-down soldier’s helmet to both memorialize fallen soldiers and serves as an offering bowl.

The Satanic Temple describes the bowl as a place for visitors to leave cards or flowers, but also calls it a “Baphometic” bowl, relating it to an occult idol that has roots in medieval paganism.

“It feels like it’s being imposed on us from the outside,” Father Lynch told The Catholic Spirit.

Located 45 miles southwest of Minneapolis along Highway 169, Belle Plaine — population 6,400 — attracted the Satanic Temple’s interest after accommodating the placement of another monument that included a cross in a public park. Joseph Gregory, an 87-year-old Army veteran and Belle Plaine resident, made an iron silhouette of a soldier holding a gun and kneeling by a cross gravemarker that the Belle Plaine Veterans Club placed in the city’s Veterans Memorial Park last August. Gregory died in October.

A Freedom From Religion Foundation member in Belle Plaine considered the statue too religious for public land, so she reported the issue to police, according to Alpha News. The Freedom From Religion Foundation persuaded the Belle Plaine City Council to have the cross removed. The council addressed it with the Vets Club, and the cross was taken down Jan. 17.

Veterans and citizens crowded city hall for a Feb. 6 city council meeting to ask for the cross’ return. The council voted 3-2 to form a limited public forum area in the park, which allowed “Joe” to have the cross again. The designated space permits anyone of any religion to apply to place a memorial.

The Satanic Temple learned about the opportunity to place a monument in Belle Plaine through the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which also hopes to place a memorial in the park.

According to Freedom From Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor, her organization’s memorial aims to honor “atheists in foxholes and other free-thinkers who have served their country with valor and distinction.” She said a quarter of the U.S. military is not religious, and the same percentage of the organization’s 29,000 members are veterans.

The Satanic Temple has similar aims. Its co-founder, Lucien Greaves, said that despite the name, his 5-year-old organization doesn’t believe in the supernatural, including Satan or God. Instead, it celebrates the “metaphorical construct” of Satan used, for example, in literature as “the ultimate rebel against tyranny,” not as a symbol of evil. Greaves said the Satanic Temple espouses an authentic “belief position” and not “some disingenuous ploy.”

“We really do embrace the opportunity to put up a memorial tribute to veterans in their honor,” Greaves said. The Belle Plaine monument would be its first veterans memorial.

With more than 10,000 members — including military veterans, Greaves said — worldwide, its chapters host lectures, weddings and funerals, and rituals surrounding events such as the spring equinox. The temple holds tenets such as autonomy of one’s body, compassion, justice and that “people are fallible.” It also supports abortion and same-sex marriage.

From its inception, the Satanic Temple has advocated for religious plurality “by asking for equal representation in public forums,” Greaves said. In 2015, it pushed for a Satanic statue at the Oklahoma State Capitol, but the statue was later erected on private property in Detroit, after Oklahoma City elected to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments instead. In 2014, a Satanic Temple member gave an invocation at a City Hall meeting in Greece, New York, that ended with “Hail, Satan.” Among the organization’s initiatives is “After School Satan,” what Greaves called an anti-bullying and anti-gang extracurricular program with no religious indoctrination. Its website states that the program aims to counter alleged “evangelism” of Christian-based after-school clubs.

The organization was also behind a “Black Mass” scheduled at Harvard University in 2014. A student group moved the event off campus after the Archdiocese of Boston condemned the event.

In his testimony before the city council, Father Lynch explained the distinction between the Satanic Temple and occult Satanism. He referred to the temple’s belief system as “atheistic Satanism” and the occult as “theistic Satanism.”

Theistic Satanists worship “the powerful and evil enemy of God called Satan in the Christian Bible,” he said. Meanwhile, atheistic Satanists “use Satan as a symbol of the rejection of moral authorities and the constraints on human behavior these authorities teach and support.”

However, Father Lynch said, atheistic Satanists use the “same inverted pentagrams as a symbol, a symbol that is almost exclusively associated with opposition to God and goodness.”

He argued that erecting a monument with Satanic symbols in the city would have a negative effect on the public — no matter the atheistic or theistic nature of the group that commissioned it — and that it violates multiple sections in a chapter of Belle Plaine’s city code. Father Lynch noted that the code states that “it shall be a petty misdemeanor for any person, in any parks or other public lands” to “commit any nuisance or any offense against decency or public morals.”

“The inverted pentagrams on the Satanic monument proposed by The Satanic Temple will prompt young people to consider Satanism for themselves and to reject the good moral behavior required for an ordered and peaceful society,” Father Lynch said.

Jason Adkins, Minnesota Catholic Conference executive director, said the question of the memorial’s placement is both a freedom of speech issue and a religious freedom one. He added that both have legitimate limits.

“With rights come responsibilities,” he said. “You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” if there isn’t one.

As for religious freedom, the government can have a “compelling” reason to set limits when a practice violates the common good, Adkins said, giving the example of the two Michigan doctors in court for performing female genital mutilation on two Minnesota Muslim girls for religious reasons.

Meanwhile, Adkins said it should shock people that there isn’t more push-back against the proposed memorial, with the exception of a priest and other Catholics.

“You’re invoking Satan,” he said. “We’ve come to a point in society, a post-Christian society, where someone could invoke the name of Satan and even put a monument in the town square — and we’re not talking Uptown, we’re talking Belle Plaine — and that basically there is no public outcry. Traditionally, Christians have understood that when you invoke demons, you’re cursing yourself and your community.”

Melissa Saxe, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Prairie, said the monument’s presence would dissuade her from taking her family to the park. Her seven children reguarly bike along its trail.

“Once you start allowing things like this, it’s a very slippery slope,” she said.

For Catholics, Satan isn’t simply a symbol of evil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Satan is a spiritual creature who was created as an angel, but who rejected God and “fell” from heaven (CCC 391).

Father Mark Dosh, a retired priest in St. Anthony who has studied exorcism through the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, Nebraska, said the community has to respond to a Satanic memorial as they would any offensive material.

“It’s the way it has to be treated, because people give different interpretations of what the symbol means,” he said. “Just like a [offensive] billboard, where some people are saying that’s pornography and some people saying it isn’t. Usually a local community has to make or will make a decision as to what they think is offensive and bothersome.”

Satanic symbols such as the pentagram do pose a danger, he said, and the level of risk “depends on the person using them, and what they’re intending to do.”








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