Satanists thought they stood up for freedom of speech but, in reality, they stirred up a battle as ancient as Earth. And it started in the most unlikely of places.

In the Veterans Memorial Park of Belle Plaine, Minnesota, a two-foot tall monument once stood. Unobtrusive but poignant, it showed a soldier kneeling in prayer beside a cross. Many locals affectionately called the soldier “Joe”.

Then, in January, city leaders removed the monument. Why? A member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the city’s attorney. It stated Joe wrongfully suggested only Christians died for their country and it was an example of government promoting Christianity.

Turns out, the Belle Plaines Veterans Club put up the monument without anyone’s approval. The city council feared a lawsuit and quietly tucked Joe out of sight.

The Free Speech Zone

However, more than 100 residents rallied to have the monument restored. This is hardly a majority (Belle Plaine boasts a population of nearly seven thousand) but city leaders decided to restore the monument in April. It returned with a catch, though. They installed Joe in a small area of the park called “the Free Speech Zone”. Up to ten monuments could be placed there; the only requirement was that it honored soldiers.

Obviously, the city council thought only Christians or Jews would to erect monuments. Perhaps local Muslims might, which contained the potential of causing a small-yet-manageable stir, but leaders felt they discovered a neat solution. That is until the Satanists arrived.

Satanists and their Monument

The Satanic Temple in Salem, Massachusetts (yes, a religious entity 1400 miles away from the small Minnesota city) decided to insert itself into the controversy. They proposed their own monument. Obviously, they aimed to see how far city leaders in Belle Plaine were willing to go in the name of free speech.

Dubbed the “bowl of wisdom”, their monument didn’t have the flair of Detroit’s Baphomet but it got the point across. They wanted to erect a black cube inscribed with pentagrams and topped with an inverted soldier’s helmet. According to Reason Alliance, the Satanic Temple’s nonprofit fundraising arm, the purpose of the monument was to honor nonreligious members of the armed services. It was not meant to be religious at all.

It should be noted that if the proposal was denied, Reason Alliance was prepared to file a lawsuit. The council, which wanted to avoid such a thing from the start, had no choice but to acquiesce.

Naturally, whenever Satanists appear, chaos is not far behind. People came out in force to protest.

No Free Speech Zone

The group America Needs Fatima organized a rosary rally in protest. While the Satanic Temple claimed to see their monument as something completely secular, Catholics recognized it as a public honoring of Satan, the enemy of God.

Eight days later, the city council decided to remove Joe for good and dispense with the free speech zone. The now-completed Satanic monument will not grace the grass of Belle Plaine’s Veterans Memorial Park. Only an American flag stands where Joe once silently knelt.

The spokesperson of the Satanic Temple, Lucien Greaves, responded by saying,

The offending cross — the origin of this entire controversy — has been removed from the park grounds as well. And if nobody’s allowed to celebrate their exclusive access to speech in a public forum, maybe each side can learn to appreciate an environment where they’re not constantly affronted by homages to the other’s religious opinions.

If we can never truly respect pluralism, perhaps we can benefit from mutual disgust. (source)

Mr. Greaves makes something of a good point. If we really mean free speech for all, then we must also mean it for people with whom we disagree. Otherwise, we only mean “free speech for Christians; Jews and Muslims if we feel like it”.

However, the controversy, in the end, wasn’t about free speech but something much deeper.

Satan is the Enemy

Satanism falls into two general categories: theistic or LaVeyan. Theistic Satanists worship Satan as a god or entity. Most people think of them when they imagine Satanists. (There exists a third kind called Luciferians but many classify them as theistic.)

LaVeyan Satanists, on the other hand, are atheists. To them, Satan is a symbol of rebellion. The only gods they worship are themselves. Judging from their FAQ page, The Satanic Temple falls in this category. In their mind, they see themselves as bringers of rationality and destroyers of superstition. Satan is not a real figure but merely a symbol confiscated from the closest, largest religious organization.

However, in the minds of Christians, no one can separate Satan from religion. Satan tempted our first parents in the garden in the beginning. He will battle St. Michael at the end of days. Exorcists confront his minions daily. Saints from Anthony the Great to Padre Pio wrote about real encounters with Satan and his angels.

If The Satanic Temple proposed a monument decorated only with inspirational, secular phrases, no one would have had a problem. America Needs Fatima would not have organized a rosary rally. Belle Plaine would still have a Free Speech Zone in their Veterans Memorial Park.

But they chose to use a controversial, provocative symbol that caused Christians to rise up against their ancient enemy. It’s like waving a Confederate flag under the nose of a Black Lives Matter protestor. There is going to be a reaction and it will not be about free speech.

In this case, it will be about fighting Satan in all his manifestations and delusions. That is where Lucien Greaves and his compatriots completely missed the point. They see secularism while we see something darker and more dangerous. Something that should be fought against to our last breath.

Follow Acacia St. Anthony on Twitter.