The Satanic Temple, which demanded around $35,000 from the city for damages in October of last year, is moving forward with litigation, according to its attorney, Larry Frost, of Paladin Law PLLC in Bloomington.
The move follows events in 2017 surrounding a monument that was allowed in Veterans’ Park depicting a soldier kneeling beside a cross. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group that touts its mission to defend the First Amendment, complained to the city that the monument violated the separation of church and state, forcing the city to remove the monument from the park. The city responded to public outcry in Feb. of last year by opening a “limited public forum” in the form of a free speech zone, an area that allowed for 10 or fewer monuments of any type as long as they honored veterans.
The Satanic Temple out of Salem, MA, responded in kind by approaching the city with a design that was eventually approved. Public outcry ensued, and in July of 2017, the city eliminated the limited public forum with little warning, disallowing monuments of all types from the park. The Temple argued that the change was a breach of contract, broke the principles on an enforceable promise and violated their First Amendment rights.
The Temple’s previous attorney, Martin Flax, sent the city of Belle Plaine a letter in Oct. of last year demanding the $35000, which he said would have covered the cost of fabricating a monument honoring veterans. The monument, of course, was never placed due to the city’s removal of the limited public forum status at Veterans’ Memorial Park, following public outcry from Belle Plaine citizens and those from all over the country. This action, Flax argued, was in violation of the Temple’s rights to free speech and, therefore, required damage reparations.
Frost, who stated he replaced the Flax, an out of state attorney, because his being based in Minnesota made the pursuit of litigation far easier, stated that he is in the process of suing the city and is gathering witnesses. The action comes after Frost sent an Oct. 1 letter to the city demanding either $40,000 or roughly $5000 and the right to erect the monument on behalf of the Temple.
The city did not wait five weeks to respond to this year’s letter as they did last year and denied the demands one day later on Oct. 2. The city’s attorney, Robert Vose, wrote, “The Temple’s demand is based on factual inaccuracies and a counter intuitive legal argument lacking any supporting authority. As a result, the city again declines your client’s demand.”
Vose, who opted not to comment prior to his clients’ approval, referenced the $100 check the city gave to the Temple as a refund to their application fee to erect the monument. He stated in his letter that the Temple accepted the check, thereby relinquishing the city from further responsibility.
“In fact, your client provided an address for returning the check,” Vose wrote in his Oct. 2 letter.
The Temple, Frost stated, did provide an address to the city but the act of doing so was taken out of context and added that the Temple never cashed the check.
“They didn’t cash the check for the sole purpose of keeping their argument alive,” Frost later told the Herald. “If they didn’t cash the check, they didn’t accept the offer.”
Frost, a retired Lieutenant Colonel and combat veteran with the United States Army, said that he believes his service in the military sought to protect the freedoms of all groups like the Temple. He went on to say that he believes denying the Temple’s demands defies what he and other veterans fought for.
“This is a very personal matter for me. I think it’s morally wrong and violates the First Amendment,” Frost said. “I think it should resonate with every veteran.” He added that he would like to have personal conversations outside of the public eye with local veterans and the Vets’ Club.
Frost stated that litigation is the last thing he and his clients want and would rather have the monument erected and the monument bearing the cross be returned.
“What you have is two very sincere efforts to honor veterans,” Frost said.
In his Oct. 2 letter, Vose wrote that Frost failed to present relevant case law that requires the city to permit the erection of a religious monument in a public park.
Vose works alongside the League of Minnesota Cities to represent the City of Belle Plaine.