Belle Plaine gives up on ‘free speech zone’

Belle Plaine, Minn., tried just about everything it could short of understanding every U.S. Supreme Court ruling on religious displays in the country’s history. But on Monday it threw in the towel and banned privately-owned displays in a city park.

The city should have seen the controversy coming when a monument of a soldier kneeling by a cross, intended to honor veterans and fallen soldiers, was placed in a city park.

The city tried to get around the resulting claim that it violated the constitutional separation of church and state by declaring the park a “free speech zone,” a tactic that was never going to survive a constitutional challenge, but it never got that far.

Once Satanists announced plans to erect their own monument as part of their free speech, there could only be one result and last night the City Council gave up, posting this statement this morning to the city’s Facebook page.

Last night, the Belle Plaine City Council voted to rescind a resolution enacted in February, 2017, that allowed individuals or organizations to place and maintain privately-owned displays in a designated space of the city-owned Veterans Memorial Park.

As called-for in the resolution, owners of all privately-owned Park displays currently located in the Park’s designated space are now being given 10 days’ notice to remove the displays. Our local veterans organizations are supportive of this action.

The original intent of providing the public space was to recognize those who have bravely contributed to defending our nation through their military service. In recent weeks and months, though, that intent has been overshadowed by freedom of speech concerns expressed by both religious and non-religious communities.

The debate between those communities has drawn significant regional and national attention to our city, and has promoted divisiveness among our own residents.

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.

Therefore, the Council believes that it is in the best interests of our Belle Plaine community to rescind the resolution, and bring this divisive matter to closure.

Over the weekend, a “rosary rally” protested the idea of including the Satanic display. By then, the initial memorial — called “Joe” — had been removed.

There’s nothing to prevent “Joe” — or the Satanic memorial for that matter — from reappearing on private property. There’s nothing to prevent Belle Plaine from honoring the military without including a religious display.

  • RBHolb

    Free speech concerns have overshadowed honoring defense of the nation by the military. That one sentence says a lot about contemporary America.

    • Boy, you know , if there’s one thing that doesn’t have a problem rising above the noise in this country, it’s honoring the military.

      • >>Boy, you know , if there’s one thing that doesn’t have a problem rising above the noise in this country, it’s honoring the military.<<

        Unless "honoring" the military includes taking care of them when they return from deployments, which may cost some extra $$, then it's just crickets…

    • Wayne

      It is just and good that they do. Free speech concerns are what we’re supposed to be defending.

      After all the first amendment in the Bill of Rights is devoted to free speech, and the first sentence in the Army oath of enlistment is about defending the Constitution.

      As someone who had “No Preference” stamped on his dog tags, I’m happy with it.
      And, I’d feel a lot more honored if the chicken hawks and war profiteers that pound the drums of war would put away their drumsticks for a while.

      • RBHolb

        I agree with you 100%. I just found it ironic that the city seemed to be framing free speech concerns as a civic inconvenience.

        • MikeB

          Those pesky Bill of Rights keep getting in the way of honoring our freedoms

        • Wayne

          Right about the civic inconvenience. I grew up in small-town, northern Minnesota, and you had two choices, Catholic or Protestant.

          But, there are a lot of religions out there, and I think that people who live in mostly homogeneous communities have a hard time understanding that the rules governing these kinds of things apply to their towns as well as to the big cities.

  • jon

    Satanists and Pastafarians sure do know how to make sure the evangelical christians lobby for a separation of church and state, instead of their own version of sharia law they are so fond of.

    • Wayne

      Amen.
      If they’re going to allow one religion’s icons on public land they have
      to be prepared to let all of them in including the Satanists, Muslims,
      Catholics, Protestants, Pastafarians, Wotanists, Wiccans, Buddhists, Jedi, Hindus,
      Zoroastrians, Taoists (alchemical and philosophical), Shintoists, Cargo
      Cultists, etc, etc, etc.

      • Jim in RF

        Don’t forget the Pasta Rastafarians!

        • Wayne

          Edited to include them.

          Ramen…

  • Al

    I go to church each week. I consider myself pretty religious. I am 1000% good with this outcome.

  • Mike

    >>”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…<<

    This statement is a study in dishonesty. Apparently they only wanted to honor *Christian* veterans because…. well, I guess the sacrifices of non-Christians don't really count, do they? I'm quite delighted this blew up in their face.

  • lindblomeagles

    Here’s the problem with free speech in the Trump Era, “Everybody now has the greenlight to force their agenda on others.” We tend to think of Americans as liberal or conservative. The reality is Americans are people, and people have the age-old characteristic of doing, believing, and thinking in multiple ways; not just conservative; not just liberal. The challenge for us is moving away from the two labels, and working towards compromise solutions.