Sunday, July 16, 2017

Belle Plaine Monument Controversy Ending?

Back in April, I covered the Satanic monument controversy in the little Minnesota town of Belle Plaine, about 45 miles southwest of my home in Minneapolis. To recap, a Christian group put up a monument in the town's Veteran's Memorial Cemetery. The monument was tasteful, but explicitly Christian, as it depicted a soldier kneeling before a cross. The Freedom from Religion Foundation argued that if the city council was going to allow a Christian monument to remain, it would have to open the cemetery up to monuments placed by other religious group. The city council agreed to do so, since they wanted to keep the monument.

Naturally, this sort of thing brings The Satanic Temple out of the woodwork. The Temple submitted a proposal for its own tasteful Satanic monument consisting of a black cube with pentagrams inscribed around its sides. The city council approved the monument, which provoked waves of protest by the Poor Oppressed Christians of Belle Plaine. They wanted to keep their monument, and at the same time block other religious groups from putting up their own. Which, of course, is the way of the Poor Oppressed. They have to be special, so no one else can be. They are oppressed by the mere existence of beliefs other than their own.

But according to an article in Saturday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the controversy may be ending. The city council removed the Christian memorial, and is reportedly planning to shut down the "free speech zone" that was previously set up in the cemetery for private religious memorials.

The 2-foot steel statue, entitled “Joe,” was removed by its creator’s family a day before dueling observances Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park. Its return now is threatened by a Belle Plaine City Council proposal that also would block an anti-religion group from moving ahead with plans to install a satanic monument nearby. That memorial, a black cube inscribed with pentagrams and topped with an upside-down soldier’s helmet, was proposed and approved after the city opened the door by removing, then reinstating “Joe” earlier this year. The satanic monument could have been the first of its kind erected on public property in the United States.

On Monday, however, the City Council is expected to act on a resolution rescinding a “public forum” area created in the park to allow for religious statues. It was there in a small grassy plot beneath a hill where “Joe” was installed and where the Satanic Temple’s monument would be erected. Atop the hill on Saturday, more than 150 people attended an hourlong “rosary rally” organized by America Needs Fatima, a Catholic nonprofit. They prayed, many on their knees, while some carried signs, one reading: “Satan belongs in hell, not Veterans Memorial Park.”

Sitting on a picnic blanket nearby were supporters of Minnesota’s Left Hand Path Community. They have defended the satanic monument, but were prepared to let it go if the city were to reverse course by deciding to bar all religious symbols from the park. Leaders from both groups were unaware of details of the City Council’s proposal until informed Saturday by a Star Tribune reporter.

As I said in my previous article, my preferred outcome would have been to keep the "free speech zone" and allow the Christian monument along with others by The Satanic Temple and any other religious group that wanted to install one. The diversity of religion in America is a strength, not a weakness, and as I see it kids should grow up seeing examples of that diversity everywhere. But to be clear, it's the Poor Oppressed Christians who are preventing this from coming to pass. They always find a way to take their ball and go home whenever anybody suggests that anybody else also has a right to play.

So I don't share the goals of those who want to drive all religion from the public square. But if we're going to have public religious monuments, all religions need to be granted the same rights to share public space. I have absolutely no problem with a Christian monument on public land, as long as all minority religions (including Satanists) have the right to put up their own monuments as well. The Satanic Temple may be provocateurs looking to force Christians to take down their monuments, but I think the Christians should call their bluff and let their monuments stand along with everybody else's.

I think it would be great to offer every child growing up in our society a marketplace of religious ideas in which they can choose for themselves what they find most meaningful. But the Poor Oppressed Christians know that if that ever happened, most of the time their strict version of literalist Christianity would lose. They know that if they want to stay on top, the only way to do it is to tilt the playing field in their favor.

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