Sunday, April 30, 2017

Satanic Monument Controversy Comes to Belle Plaine

Yeah, I know what you're thinking - where the hell is Belle Plaine? Since I'm a Minnesotan, I'll tell you. Belle Plaine is a small town forty-some miles southwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota where I currently live. It's classic small-town Minnesota, with a population of about 6,700. That's mentioned in the section I clipped from the article below, but I figured I would lead off with it to give you a sense of place - since unless you're from around here, you'll have no idea where it is.

Anyway, a Christian group put up a monument to honor veterans in the town's Veteran's Memorial Park. No surprise, the monument featured a cross. City leaders decided that the monument needed to be taken down in case someone decided to sue - and to be clear, no one actually did. A lot of people in Belle Plaine liked the monument, so they protested its removal. The city's response was to set up an area where monuments from all religious traditions could be erected, including the Christian one. Which is actually quite reasonable, as I see it.

The symbol in this case was a modest but poignant 2-foot steel war memorial called “Joe,” which features a cross in its tribute to soldiers in Belle Plaine’s Veterans Memorial Park. City leaders, fearing a lawsuit rooted in the constitutional separation of church and state, in January ordered the removal of the cross. But more than 100 residents rallied to restore the full memorial. To defuse the turmoil, the city then decided to designate a small area in the park as a “free speech zone,” open to 10 or fewer temporary memorials, as long as they honor veterans.

The cross was reinstalled on the monument this month. And it’s about to have company: The Satanic Temple in Salem, Mass., is planning to erect its own memorial: A black cube, inscribed with inverted pentagrams and crowned by an upturned helmet. “Everyone understood this could happen,” said Belle Plaine resident Andy Parrish, who led the charge to restore the cross. “It’s more annoying than it is offensive.”

In Belle Plaine, a town of 6,700 about 45 miles southwest of Minneapolis, the original decision to remove the cross proved deeply unpopular. For nearly a month, flag-toting protesters occupied the park each day, often staking their own handmade crosses into the ground out of defiance. Almost overnight, small wooden crosses popped up in business windows, on mailboxes and front lawns. “The residents feel a sense of duty,” Parrish told an overflow crowd at a February City Council meeting. “Our veterans defended us and it’s our duty to defend them.”

City officials decided that night to authorize the public forum on park grounds. Councilman Ben Stier wondered aloud if the change would be worth it to veterans if they had to share their parcel with, say, a satanic group. They answered with a reluctant yes. The Satanic Temple was first in line to test their resolve.

I want to emphasize that all of this had to do with fears of a lawsuit on the part of city leaders. Nobody filed suit demanding that the monument come down. They were just worried that at some point in the future, somebody might. So they ordered it taken down of their own volition, not in response to any legal demand.

And the thing about this is that I totally support what looks like the outcome here. I'd rather drive by a public park and see a whole bunch of monuments put up by people of different religious traditions than drive by and see nothing. I also think that in this particular legal context, atheism needs to be treated as a religious belief as well - even though in reality, atheism is absence of one particular belief (in a God or gods) than it is a coherent set of beliefs. Atheists need to be given the rights as believers, so any atheist group should likewise be free to put up their own secular display.

The Christian monument in question is tasteful and I don't see any reason to remove it. However, if one religion is allowed to put up a monument on government land, every other religion needs to have the right to do the same. Whether they exercise it or not is up to them, but they need to be given the right to do it if they want. The Satanic Temple's monument is not offensive either, and it should be allowed to stand. And I think that's a better state of affairs than insisting that any monument with religious content be removed from government land.

Let's celebrate our religious diversity rather than trying to sweep it all under the rug.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble

No comments: