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 today 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.

Protesters kneel to pray the rosary and sing during a rally against a future satanic monument. Hannah Kangas | MPR News

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.