by Dan Ruud
The Belle Plaine City Council is expecting more guests than usual next Monday evening (Feb. 6) as many people have vowed to make their voices heard on the subject of the recent removal of the cross from a display at Veterans Memorial Park in Belle Plaine.
A “Citizens of Belle Plaine” advertisement on page 10 asks community members to attend next Monday’s council meeting, stating “our veterans defended us, and we must defend them.”
“This issue will be on the agenda as requested by a local representative of the group,” said Belle Plaine Mayor Chris Meyer. “He will present for the whole group since this is not a public hearing. The city is continuing to research several issues regarding Veterans Park, both from the legal aspect as well as a policy review standpoint.”
Meyer added that there will be additional information available at next Monday’s council meeting.
The cross was removed by the city and Belle Plaine Veterans Club a couple of weeks ago after members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), based in Wisconsin, demanded that the action be taken because the law clearly states that religious symbols are not allowed on government-owned property. Belle Plaine City Attorney Bob Vose recommended that the cross be removed to avoid potentially costly legal action by the FFRF.
The memorial the cross was a part of was made by the late-Joe Gregory, a U.S. Marine veteran. Gregory created the memorial to honor those who served and died for their country.
Some of those people in attendance next Monday could be those who signed an online petition (RETURN OUR CROSS NOW) demanding that the permanent cross be returned. The petition states:
Out-of-State atheists have no right to tell our town how to live and JoAnne Gill does not get to make decisions for the entire city. To avoid a recall campaign of elected members of the city, we as citizens of Belle Plaine demand the city council return our cross to Veterans Park NOW and issue a formal apology to us, your fellow citizens.
As of noon Monday, the petition had mustered some 1,300 signatures. How many of those signers or others will be at next Monday’s council meeting is not known.
A spokesperson from the FFRF told the Herald last week that they do not plan to have a representative at the council meeting next Monday. She said “the level of hysteria” this issue has created in Belle Plaine could create a safety issue, but that the foundation really needs “no” representation because the Constitution of the United States is on their side - “plain and simple,” she continued.
The FFRF’s complaint to the city of Belle Plaine reads:
“In Veterans Memorial Park in the city of Belle Plaine, Minn., there is a display of a soldier kneeling before a Latin cross next to the Veterans Memorial Stone. This display was reportedly added to the park very recently.
“We certainly have no objection to veterans’ memorials,” continued the complaint. “But it is unlawful for a city government to display patently religious symbols on city property, even to commemorate our veterans. It shows an endorsement of religion over non-religion. Additionally, the memorial sends a message that the government cares only about the death of Christian soldiers and is disdainful of the sacrifices made by non-Christian and nonreligious soldiers, since it excludes the one-third of the population that identifies as such. Please act appropriately and move the religious display off city property.”
The FFRF, following a complaint in 2015 about the Belle Plaine Rotary Club’s Nativity Scene being located on police department property, was successful in that display being relocated to private property this past holiday season.