Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A new holy war has erupted in the small Minnesota town of Belle Plaine after The Satanic Temple was given permission to display a satanic monument in the “free speech” zone of a veteran’s memorial park; however, local Catholics are raising a good question – is it really in the public’s best interest to promote Satan?
The Catholic News Service is reporting on the brouhaha which is gripping a small Minnesota town where the Satanic Temple was given permission to erect a monument featuring a 23-inch-by-23-inch steel cubed etched with inverted pentagrams. On top of the box is an upended soldier’s helmet which is meant to serve as an offering bowl for visitors to leave cards or flowers. This bowl is also referred to as a “Baphometic” bowl in reference to a pagan idol.
The City Council approved the monument after the city found itself falling into the usual “Catch 22” situation that evolves when atheist groups claim religious symbols on public property violate the separation of church and state. In an effort to accommodate both sides in the argument, the door then opens to organizations such as the Satanic Temple. As a result, authorities often resort to shutting down all religious expression, including Christian, in order to prevent them from displaying their message.
In this case, the story began with 87 year-old Army veteran and Belle Plaine resident Joseph Gregory who made an iron silhouette of a soldier holding a gun and kneeling by a cross grave marker. The city’s Vet Club place the monument in the Veteran’s Memorial Park last August. Mr. Gregory passed away in October, 2016.
A member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in Belle Plaine saw the statue and thought it was too religious for public land. She reported it to the authorities. The FFRF convinced the City Council to remove it, which in turn caused an uproar among the citizenry.
In a crowded city council meeting in February of this year, residents asked to have the cross returned. The Council decided by a vote of 3-2 to form a limited public forum area in the park which would be opened to persons of any religion to erect memorials.
It didn’t take long for the Satanic Temple to seize the opportunity to announce plans for a memorial engraved with occult symbols to be erected on public property.
Technically, the Satanic Temple claims to practice atheistic Satanism whose followers don’t believe in the existence of Satan. Instead, atheistic Satanists see the devil as a symbol or life principal worth emulating, such as in the rejection of moral authority and the elimination of constraints on human behavior that these authorities promote. In other words, they oppose Judeo-Christian values.
According to the Belle Prairie council, the Satanic memorial is ready and is in the process of arranging for its installation.
A local priest, Father Brian Lynch of Our Lady of the Prairie parish, testified at a recent hearing about the proposed monument and pointed out that even though they don’t worship Satan, the group uses the same inverted pentagrams which are “exclusively associated with opposition to God and goodness.”
He went on to argue that erecting a monument with Satanic symbols would have a negative effect on the public as well as violate multiple sections of Belle Plaine’s city code, which prohibits any nuisance or offense “against decency or public morals”.
Jason Adkins, Minnesota Catholic Conference executive director, also weighed in, saying that a Satanic memorial is a matter of both freedom of speech and religious freedom – both of which have limits.
“With rights come responsibilities,” Adkins said. “You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre” if there isn’t one.
He said the government can have a “compelling” reason to set limits when a practice violates the common good, such as what it did recently when it tried two Michigan doctors for performing female genital mutilation on two Minnesota Muslim girls for religious reasons.
This Saturday, two protests were conducted at the park, one hosted by America Needs Fatima in opposition to the Satanic memorial and the other by Minnesota’s Left Hand Path Community which is in support of the memorial. Just prior to the event, Mr. Gregory’s family removed their monument from the park for safe-keeping.
However, at this point, the dust up has given Council members second thoughts about the whole idea of the public forum area in the park. They are scheduled to deliberate on a new resolution tonight which will eliminate the public area of the park altogether. The resolution states that “allowing privately-owned memorials or displays in its Park no longer meets the intent or purpose of the Park.”
It goes on to say that the Council has determined “that the continuation of the limited public forum may encourage vandalism in the Park, reduce the safety, serenity, and decorum of the Park, unnecessarily burden City staff and law enforcement, and negatively impact the public’s health, safety and welfare.”
If passed, all memorials will be prohibited in the park.
But all is not lost. As Father Lynch told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“Sometimes these things which are evil can really, maybe, wake some people up. We really have to take our faith seriously and live it.”
He’s absolutely right. If we are effective enough witness of the cross, we won’t need memorials to bring honor and attention to our Lord and Savior.
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