The Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple is suing the city of Belle Plaine, Minn., for revoking permission to erect a satanic monument, continuing almost two years of fights over free speech and religion-themed tributes in the city's Veterans Memorial Park.
"I knew this was going to be a problem," Council Member Paul Chard said Saturday. "The pot got stirred pretty quick."
Chard said he was referring not to the Satanic Temple's monument but to the city's initial acceptance in 2017 of another monument, a steel silhouette known as "Joe" that depicted a soldier kneeling before a cross. Soon, someone complained that "Joe" violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
City leaders, fearing a lawsuit, ordered its removal. That triggered weeks of protests in the city of about 7,000 southwest of Minneapolis. So the council designated an area in the park as a "limited public forum," open to temporary memorials to fallen veterans.
The Satanic Temple, based in Salem, Mass., applied to install its own monument — what would have been the first satanic monument on public property in the country. The city granted a permit, and the temple designed a 23-inch black cube inscribed with inverted pentagrams and topped with an upturned helmet, which it planned to install in July 2017.
That plan prompted more protests. So exasperated city officials decided to shut down the limited public forum, ordering the removal of "Joe" and withdrawing permission for the temple's monument.
"People certainly have the right to protest and that's fine, but the result of protest shouldn't be depriving others of their civil rights," Malcolm Jarry, the Satanic Temple's co-founder, said Saturday.
The temple's suit argues that the city violated the group's First Amendment rights and breached its contract by rescinding its approval. The temple also said it has already paid to have the marker built.
"As you well know, you can't decide to suppress speech just because hecklers didn't like it," said Bruce Fein, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer representing the temple.
Chard said he doesn't object to the monument but laments the expense of defending the city against the lawsuit. "Small cities, basically, we're strapped," he said.
The Satanic Temple, which has 18 chapters across the country including one in Minnesota, says it doesn't believe in supernatural beings, including Satan or the devil, but advocates for a stricter separation of church and state. Last year, it placed a statue of a goat-headed creature at the Arkansas State Capitol to call for the removal of a monument bearing the Ten Commandments, and an Illinois chapter placed a statue in the Illinois Capitol alongside holiday displays of a Nativity scene and a menorah.
The organization's website says it strives "to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice." It has been designated by the IRS as a tax-exempt church, Fein said.