FFRF welcomes Belle Plaine’s new policy against religious displays

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation commends a Minnesota town's new policy to bar private displays on religion, even if the town arrived there after unnecessary turbulence.

In Veterans Memorial Park in Belle Plaine, 45 miles southwest of the Twin Cities, a cutout statue of a soldier kneeling before a Latin cross was placed without permission next to the town's own monument to veterans. In response to a letter from FFRF's Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, a chain of events was set in motion. Initially, the town did the right thing and removed the Christian display. Capitulating to a noisy pushback, the Belle Plaine City Council then created a limited "free speech" public forum, which enabled the prayerful cutout to remain, but opened up the park to other perspectives.

In response, FFRF as well as a Satanic group threatened to add their own displays. FFRF indicated it would place a display honoring "atheists in foxholes." A proposed monument from The Satanic Temple approved by the town and set to go up soon generated protests and grabbed a lot of attention in local and national media. 

Last night, the City Council voted to end the controversy, approving Resolution 17-090, which declares "...the policy... is rescinded and the limited public forum established in the Park is hereby eliminated." It states that private displays shall be removed by the city. This vote assures that the cross memorial, which was removed again last weekend, will not be returning to the city park.

The city leaders released a statement noting that the public forum "has promoted divisiveness among our own residents . . . [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."

FFRF applauds the Belle Plaine City Council's change of heart.

"Religion in government and public-owned facilities always creates divisiveness," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The City Council realized it was headed down the wrong path. This is a solid victory not just for the separation of state and church, but for community harmony."

FFRF had objected to the cross on city land due to a number of reasons.

The cross showed an endorsement of religion over nonreligion. Additionally, FFRF asserted, the memorial sent a message that the government cares only about the death of Christian soldiers and was disdainful of the sacrifices made by non-Christian and nonreligious soldiers, since it excluded the one-third of the population that identifies as such.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization that works to protect the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. It has more than 29,000 nonreligious members and chapters across the country, including almost 600 and two chapters in Minnesota. The organization is working on this issue both as a state/church watchdog group and on behalf of the one-fourth of its members who are in the military or are veterans.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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