The free-speech zone in Belle Plaine’s Veterans Memorial Park was quietly eliminated Monday night with the swift, sweeping approval of a 15-item consent agenda.

“Our intent was good … but it just became too convoluted,” said council member Theresa McDaniel.  

The city created the zone earlier this year to allow for “Joe” — the privately owned statue of a soldier kneeling at a cross-shaped grave marker — to remain in the city-owned park, even though the cross is an explicitly religious symbol. But that paved the path for what would have been the first satanic monument on public property in the United States, attracting national attention to the small town.

The memorial, proposed by The Satanic Temple of Massachusetts, had not yet been installed at the time of the vote.

“Joe” was removed by his owners last week after America Needs Fatima, a national non-profit, announced a “Rosary Rally” in protest. The event drew more than a hundred people, as well as a handful of freedom of speech advocates and several members of Minnesota’s Left Hand Path Community, which supports the satanic memorial.

Now, with the city’s reversal of its original decision, the stretch of grass that was once designated for anyone to place memorials will remain empty, except for the American flag stuck into the ground where “Joe” once kneeled.

There was no public comment and no council discussion regarding the free-speech zone during the council meeting. It was one of 15 items on the consent agenda, which were approved as a batch at the beginning of the meeting.

The free-speech zone was created by a 3-2 vote earlier this year, after “Joe” was removed from the park, eliciting a strong reaction from Belle Plaine residents, said council member Cary Coop, who voted against the zone’s creation.

Since Belle Plaine approved The Satanic Temple’s proposed memorial — which met all the free-speech zone’s requirements — the town has attracted widespread attention, with hundreds of phone calls and emails pouring into city hall and demonstrations organized by outside groups.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Coop said. “I think people are really, really tired of it. It’s been non-stop controversy for a year now.”

Overlooking the Rosary Rally in Veterans Memorial Park Saturday afternoon, Belle Plaine resident Kyle Tietz said he was disappointed at the possibility of the city reversing its decision.

“They fought a battle, they made a decision. Stick with it,” he said. “Let everybody put their own things up. Everybody has an opinion. That’s what makes this country great … This is the veterans’ park, isn’t it? That’s what they fought for.”

Enterprise reporter

Tory Cooney is an enterprise reporter with a love of features writing. She is vivacious, resourceful and enjoys cooking, quilting, snowshoeing and Post-it-notes.