- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

BELLE PLAINE, Minn. (AP) - A veterans’ memorial park in Minnesota will soon include a satanic monument among its tributes, as an unintended consequence of a free speech debate.

The city of Belle Plaine, about 45 miles southwest of Minneapolis, is allowing the monument in its Veterans Memorial Park after the Freedom from Religion Foundation threatened to sue over another statue that features a soldier praying over a grave marked with a cross. The cross was removed once the issue was raised, but more than 100 residents rallied to put it back.

City Administrator Mike Votca said the city knew it had to include everyone, so it created a free speech area for all - as long as the tributes honor veterans.

The memorial from the Satanic Temple in Salem, Massachusetts, features a black cube with inverted pentagrams, a soldier’s helmet and a plaque honoring veterans who died in battle.

Doug Mesner is founder of the Satanic Temple and its nonprofit group Reason Alliance. He said the group doesn’t worship Satan, but is a non-theistic, religious group.

“It’s certainly better to preserve the First Amendment than to preserve your notions of religious supremacy on public grounds. That’s certainly not what America was founded on and certainly not what our soldiers fought for,” he said.

Some residents of this town of about 6,700 felt the city’s initial decision to remove the cross was an insult to veterans who sacrificed their lives, and they accused groups like the Satanic Temple of preying on small towns. For nearly a month, protesters occupied the park daily and put their own handmade crosses in the ground.

“The residents feel a sense of duty,” Andy Parrish, a Belle Plaine resident who led the effort to restore the cross, said at a City Council meeting. “Our veterans defended us and it’s our duty to defend them.”

While some residents aren’t fans of the satanic memorial, Parrish said everyone understood something like that was a possibility.

“It’s more annoying than it is offensive,” he said.


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