A lawsuit filed by the Satanic Temple over its efforts to erect a monument in a Belle Plaine park is moving forward, despite a federal court’s dismissal of most of the counts outlined in the complaint.
U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright dismissed nine of the 10 counts in the suit against the city by the Massachusetts-based temple, several of which alleged violations of free speech and the free exercise of religion.
“The temple didn’t win anything here,” said Monte Mills, the city’s attorney in the case. He said he was especially pleased the court dismissed all the temple’s constitutional claims.
The surviving claim in the suit hinges on promissory estoppel and alleges the city essentially breached a contract when it revoked a permit to let the temple place a monument in Veterans Memorial Park.
The suit alleged the city broke what amounted to a promise by rescinding the permit. The temple had already paid to have the monument built, at a cost of $40,000, its lawyer said.
The temple says that promise should be enforced to “avoid injustice,” which could include damages to recoup the monument’s cost, the order said.
“On the eve of us getting [the monument] where it was supposed to go, they yanked the rug out from under us,” said Matt Kezhaya, attorney for the Satanic Temple.
No hearings are yet scheduled, but Kezhaya said he plans to determine which of the dismissed claims can be raised again and refile a complaint.
The Satanic Temple, which has more than a dozen chapters across the country including one in Minnesota, says its members don’t actually believe in Satan but advocate for a more distinct separation of church and state.
It has placed monuments near a Ten Commandments monument in Arkansas and a menorah and Nativity scene in Illinois.
The group has been embroiled in a battle for more than three years with Belle Plaine, a Scott County city of about 7,000 about 40 miles southwest of Minneapolis, when city leaders accepted a steel silhouette of a soldier kneeling at a cross for Veterans Memorial Park.
Someone complained the monument violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
Fearing legal action, city leaders called for its removal, which brought on weeks of protests.
So the City Council set aside part of the park as a “limited public forum,” a place for temporary memorials to veterans.
The Satanic Temple applied to install its own monument in that area, which reportedly would have been the first of its kind on public land in the United States.
City officials granted the temple a permit for the monument, a 23-inch black box etched with pentagrams and topped with a soldier’s upturned helmet.
Installation was set for July 2017.
But when the temple disclosed its plans, more protests caused city officials to call for the removal of the soldier monument and rescind its permit for the temple’s monument.
The Satanic Temple filed its suit against the city in April 2019.