For much of 2017, there was a church/state separation battle in Belle Plaine, Minnesota that began when members of The Satanic Temple noticed a Christian monument at (the very public) Veterans Memorial Park. It was a kneeling soldier in front of a Christian cross. Seeing that as an invitation, the Satanists applied to erect their own monument for veterans right next to the other one.
They got the approval and hired someone to build the monument. I repeat: They got the approval and hired someone to build the monument.
But then, that July, just before the installation was set to take place and after a public outcry over the expected new addition, the Belle Plaine City Council voted to eliminate the “free speech zone” for good.
Rather than have a Satanic monument go up, they promised to remove the Christian monument.
That was all well and good in regards to the First Amendment. But that didn’t mean all the problems were resolved because The Satanic Temple now had this giant black, expensive steel monument sitting in a facility. They commissioned it with the intention of putting it up in the park, but that was no longer going to happen because city officials shut down the public forum.
So what were they supposed to do with it?
That December, the Satanists demanded that the city pay them the $35,000 they spent on the display. Their argument was essentially that they played by the rules and did everything local officials wanted… only to have the city break the “contract” at the last second (after the Satanists called their bluff), wasting the Satanists’ time and money.
The city council didn’t buy that logic. In a letter to the Satanists’ lawyer, the city attorney basically said there was no contract at all. Furthermore, the Satanists accepted a refund of their application fee (suggesting they knew the deal was dead), and they couldn’t prove the city changed the rules just to spite them.
The Temple’s spokesperson Lucien Greaves said they never cashed the $100 refund and a lawsuit could be in the works. That wasn’t a mere threat. They eventually sued.
The lawsuit itself listed 10 different counts and called for $50,000 in compensatory damages on top of any punitive damages (“with interest”). All of that was in addition to legal fees and a request that the Court allow the Satanists to erect their display in the park.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright ruled that the lawsuit could continue… but she tossed out nine of those ten counts. Basically, the Satanists said city officials violated their free speech and free exercise rights, and the judge was having none of it. All the complaints about constitutional violations were a no-go.
The one count that the judge allowed to proceed — the one count that this case now rested on — was the one about “promissory estoppel.” That’s the count that basically said You made a promise to us, even if it wasn’t in writing, and we expected you to uphold it.
But recently, the judge dismissed that count too:
The judge found that Belle Plaine made a promise but said the temple didn’t rely on it because the group had contacted an artist to make the monument before receiving a permit.
Belle Plaine fulfilled its promise, the judge said, since the city never promised to reimburse the temple and the temple received ample donations to fund the monument. The temple didn’t make a “compelling case” that its reputation was hurt or that the monument isn’t fulfilling its purpose because it’s not displayed in Belle Plaine, the judgment said.
Since the temple wasn’t financially hurt and there was no loss of reputation, enforcing the promise isn’t necessary, according to the order.
Belle Plaine is pleased with the court’s decision, said Dawn Meyer, the city administrator.
“Don’t pick a fight you can’t win — and that’s what happened here,” City Council Member Paul Chard said. “It’s too bad it had to get this far.”
The decision means the Temple will owe money to the city, though the exact amount has yet to be determined.
Last night, Greaves told me he considered this decision a travesty:
We were denied the right to an impartial hearing. Before refusing to hear our case, the judge, openly, and on the record, made crass assumptions about The Satanic Temple as an “anti-religious” organization, rather than simply religious one, even as such exposition on her part bore no relevance to either party’s argument, and was not based upon any evaluation of evidence.
Now Belle Plaine city officials smugly advise that one should not “pick fights they can’t win,” acknowledging that they are fully aware that the Court is corrupt and that they are free to ignore the Constitution at their convenience. In fact, the Court protected city officials from having to answer any questions under oath at all, denying us the opportunity to conduct basic discovery.
We are now in a situation where Christian Nationalist lawmakers have emboldened devout judges to flagrantly exercise bias to the point where even federal courthouses resemble small, isolated inbred communities where the sheriff lunches with the judge, and an outsider has no rights.
This is cause for alarm. This is cause for outrage. This is cause for Satanists to hold an event in Belle Plaine. More on that as plans are developed…
In addition to the unnamed future event, The Satanic Temple plans to appeal both lawsuits.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier. Thanks to Cozmo for the link)