BELLE PLAINE, Minn — Members of a veterans club in Belle Plaine, Minnesota won a huge victory Monday night when the local City Council voted 3-2 on a proposal that would return a veterans memorial display to the local veterans park.
As reported by Alpha News MN in January, the memorial – which depicts a kneeling soldier in front of a cross-shaped grave marker with a rifle in his hand, was removed by the city.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) – a Wisconsin-based organization, threatened to sue the small town of 6,600 if they did not remove the memorial for what they claim is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Jake Duesenberg of Action4Liberty told Alpha News, “I think this country needs people of courage standing up to bullies and tonight two council members did not stand up to a bunch of bullies from out-of-state. I am encouraged to see three did and there was a big victory tonight.”
On Monday night at City Hall, the effort to return the memorial to the park was led by Belle Plaine resident Andy Parrish – former Chief of Staff to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Action4Liberty, and Alliance for Defending Freedom. The groups gathered a large crowd to make their case to the members of the City Council.
A proposal was introduced by Alliance for Defending Freedom attorney Doug Wardlow during the council meeting that would create a small section of land designated as a limited public forum. A limited public forum would allow the individuals – within certain restrictions and approved by the City Council – to put up memorials honoring veterans in the park.
As the standing-room-only crowd of people packed the council chambers, Belle Plaine Mayor Christopher Meyer had to leave the door open to City Hall so they would not violate the fire code.
Belle Plaine City Attorney Robert Vose was cautious in his testimony about going forward with a vote on the proposal. In his testimony, Vose was concerned about violating First Amendment liberties and the city’s role as an arbiter of speech. Councilman Gary Coop offered no comment except for his no vote. Councilman Paul Chard, who was concerned the City would face a lawsuit, also voted no.
After almost an hour into the meeting, Councilwoman Theresa McDaniels made the motion to adopt the group’s proposal. After several more minutes of discussion, Councilman Ben Stier asked the crowd, “Is this what you want?” After receiving affirmation from the crowd, Stier then seconded McDaniels’ motion. Meyer, the last to vote said: “I’m voting my conscious” before voting “yes” to the motion.
“This is a big victory for small town America. The small town of Belle Plaine, Minnesota stood up to a multi-million dollar out-of-state group that is trying to bully this town and bully towns like this around the country into removing all references, any hints of any kind of religious faith from memorials honoring veterans. So this is a big victory,” Wardlow told Alpha News.
State Senator Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake) told Alpha News, “It was a tough call. The City Council was put in a tough position that really no city should be put into. You have an outside group representing a minority, a small minority of people – most of them who do not live in this community and dictating a war memorial that wasn’t dictated a religious memorial, but for fallen soldiers. It should be taboo. Most members would totally agree if there was a Jewish or Muslim monument, no problem. But to do away with the cross like that, I think it was handled poorly. “
Though encouraged by Parrish and Wardlow to restore the memorial immediately, the Council has not given a timeline in which the memorial will be restored. The council will meet with Vose to review and tailor the proposal for the city.