A Satanic monument commissioned for Belle Plaine’s Veterans Memorial Park never made it across state lines before the city reneged on an agreement allowing its display on public grounds.
The Satanic Temple had sought to install a memorial at a newly sanctioned free-speech zone in the park as a counterpoint to a tribute depicting a soldier kneeling by a fallen comrade’s grave, marked by a cross.
The city approved the Satanic Temple’s memorial — a black cube inscribed with inverted pentagrams and crowned by an upturned helmet — and agreed to help install it this summer.
It was to be the first Satanic monument erected on public property in the nation. But city leaders, responding to dueling religious protests, called off the installation.
The Satanic Temple’s attorney, Martin Flax, argues that the city’s decision violated his client’s First Amendment rights and constitutes a breach of contract. The nonprofit entity seeks $35,000 in damages — the cost of commissioning the piece.
“We’re going to have a very difficult time finding another use for this,” said temple co-founder and spokesman Doug Mesner. He noted that artist Chris Andres made specific design accommodations to get the city’s approval. Now it sits in storage. “It’s all at our loss.”
In a letter dated Nov. 21, City Attorney Robert Vose disputed any basis for a cash settlement. He argued that the city’s permitting process is not contractual and, even so, the Satanic Temple had accepted the $100 refund of its permit application fee.
Mesner said his organization declined to cash the check. Now it’s seeking a Twin Cities-based attorney to pursue legal action.
The small-town saga over free speech began last January when someone complained about the installation of a 2-foot steel war memorial called “Joe” to honor fallen soldiers in Veterans Memorial Park. City leaders, fearing a lawsuit rooted in the constitutional separation of church and state, ordered the removal of the cross.
That decision riled residents of the town, located about 45 miles southwest of Minneapolis. For nearly a month, flag-toting protesters occupied the park, often staking their own handmade crosses into the ground. Almost overnight, small wooden crosses popped up in business windows, on mailboxes and in front lawns.
To defuse the turmoil, the City Council designated a small area in the park as a “limited public forum,” open to 10 or fewer temporary memorials to veterans. By April, the cross was restored.
But the Satanists, looking to memorialize nonreligious service members, were determined to join them. It would take three months to finish their approved marker. Once word spread that a Satanic monument was actually coming to town, Catholic protesters gathered for a “rosary rally” hoping to block the plan.
Days later, an exasperated City Council rescinded the public forum, barring any religious symbols on the grounds — including the original cross. The Satanic Temple learned that it would no longer be able to erect its memorial two weeks after the city had agreed to help install it.
Though Mesner agrees the council members had valid concerns about vandalism and civic unrest, he said they should have considered that before establishing the free speech zone.
“I think they were maybe taking the gamble that we wouldn’t come through on producing our monument, and now I think they’re maybe gambling that we won’t file a lawsuit,” Mesner said. “They would be wrong on both counts.”
Flax, the temple’s attorney, wrote the city Oct. 10 demanding damages, noting that the cross memorial had been displayed for eight months while the Satanic monument was not allowed even one day of public display.
“This constitutes discriminatory action favoring one religious group over another group,” Flax wrote, alleging that the city violated state and federal law in the process.
Belle Plaine is insured through the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust. However, claims manager Darin Richardson said his organization doesn’t believe the Satanic Temple has a valid case.