Dueling religious groups plan to rally in Belle Plaine this weekend to protest the planned installation of a satanic monument in Veterans Memorial Park, thought to be the first of its kind erected on public property in the United States.
Belle Plaine City Council Member Ben Stier said he was confused by the rallies.
“They’re protesting something that may or may not go up,” Stier said. “It’s all speculation right now.”
Nevertheless, America Needs Fatima, a Catholic nonprofit, plans to hold a “rosary rally” on Saturday at the park, singing hymns and praying to raise awareness of what they say is Satan’s evil.
“People are kind of surprised that a public monument to Satan would be put up in a veterans park,” said Robert Ritchie, director of the group. “The devil is scary to people.”
Minnesota’s Left Hand Path Community, a group once affiliated with the Satanic Temple, plans to show support for the yet-to-be installed monument, a black cube inscribed with pentagrams and topped with an upturned soldier’s helmet.
“We aren’t a country founded on religion, we’re a country founded on freedom,” said Koren Walsh, a Left Hand Path Community member. “People keep forgetting that.”
The protests are the latest chapter in an ongoing free-speech battle over a 2-foot steel war memorial named “Joe” in Belle Plaine’s Veterans Memorial Park.
The city removed “Joe” — a silhouette of a soldier kneeling by a cross — in January after a religious group objected that it violated the constitutionally required separation of church and state.
Many residents opposed the city’s actions. For weeks, protesters camped out at the park, staking handmade crosses in the ground. In April, the city reinstated Joe, complete with its cross.
To quiet the turmoil, the city carved out a “free speech zone” in the park, open to a handful of temporary memorials honoring veterans. The Satanic Temple of Salem, Mass., and its fund raising arm, Reason Alliance, petitioned the city to install a monument to honor nonreligious service members.
Founders of the Satanic Temple say they don’t actually worship Satan but want equal treatment for atheists and other nonbelievers. The Temple aims to “encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority [and] advocate practical common sense and justice,” according to its website.
Locally, the Left Hand Path Community invited its members to gather at the park on Saturday through a Facebook post, seeking volunteers to join together for “a monument of historical importance.”
This will be the first time a satanic-oriented statue has gone up on public property. Walsh, the Left Hand Path member, said that every other time the Satanic Temple has challenged a religious statue, it was removed, ending the controversy.
Members donated $1,000 toward the statue and will be proud to have it in Minnesota, Walsh said.
“We want to support the monument and we want people to know that we’re not out there killing goats, the whole satanic Hollywood portrayal,” Walsh said. “We’re just normal people.”
America Needs Fatima promotes what it calls traditional family values and honoring the Virgin Mary, said Ritchie, its director. The group has 300,000 members and organizes 28,000 rosary rallies each year. Fifty to 100 people are expected at this one, Ritchie said. This cause is especially important to the group because it involves veterans, he said.
A flier promoting Saturday’s rally noted that it is scheduled for the same date that the Crusaders took Jerusalem from Islam 918 years ago.
“This is an affront to God that must not go unanswered!” the flier reads, while encouraging people to call the city of Belle Plaine in protest.
Stier, the City Council member, said he’s tired of the statue debate. He hinted that the city may have an unexpected update soon.
“We’ll see what happens next week and take it from there,” Stier said.