- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2017

The city of Belle Plaine, Minnesota, ended months of debate Monday by eliminating a free speech zone at Veterans Memorial Park, blocking a proposed satanic monument and forcing other religious displays to be removed.

“The original intent of providing the public space was to recognize those who have bravely contributed to defending our nation through their military service,” city leaders said in a statement. “In recent weeks and months, though, that intent has been overshadowed by freedom of speech concerns expressed by both religious and nonreligious communities.”

The controversy started in January when the city ordered a Christian-themed statue of a praying soldier to be removed from the city-owned park, fearing a lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The order was met with local backlash, and the Belle Plaine City Council passed a resolution in February designating a free speech zone at the park. That opened the door, however, to all speech, and an application from the Satanic Temple of Salem Massachusetts to erect a satanic monument at the park renewed tensions.

Monday’s vote by the City Council rescinds the free speech resolution and blocks the satanic display from ever going up, a local NBC affiliate reported.

“The debate between those communities has drawn significant regional and national attention to our city, and has promoted divisiveness among our own residents,” the city’s statement said. “While this debate has a place in public dialogue, it has detracted from our city’s original intent of designating a space solely for the purpose of honoring and memorializing military veterans, and has also portrayed our city in a negative light.”

Owners of all privately owned displays in Veteran’s Park were given 10 days to remove them from the property.

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