Belle Plaine city council votes to restore cross on veterans memorial

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A controversial veterans memorial in Belle Plaine, Minnesota will be restored to its original form after a narrow vote by the city council Monday night.

The memorial was donated to the Belle Plaine Veterans Club and placed in the city park this past summer. It was removed after a citizen complained that the display was in violation of the establishment clause of the constitution.

The statue shows a silhouette of a soldier kneeling before a cross.

On Monday, the city council voted 3-2 to establish a “limited public forum” in the Veterans Park, which supporters believe would allow the cross to stay.

The vote followed lots of debate and questioning from the council, as they expressed concern over possible legal repercussions.

City attorney Robert Bose said they still need to figure out how the forum will work, but it has been described by many as a “free speech zone” where Belle Plaine citizens can submit to have their veterans memorials displayed.

In a letter to the city, the Freedom from Religion Foundation said the policy was “constitutionally problematic. “  The group also said if the council approved the proposal, it would submit to have their own memorial put up in the park.

“It sets it up so we can have something to memorialize our fallen, but it also gives others a chance to memorialize theirs as well,” said Katie Novotny, a Belle Plaine resident who has fought to keep the cross.  “It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish, if you’re Muslim... we’re all Americans fighting this war together.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit that aims to protect religious freedom, has teamed up with the pro-cross contingent in Belle Plaine. ADF’s attorney Doug Wardlow flew in from Scottsdale, Arizona to present the limited public forum idea to the city council and has promised to defend Belle Plaine in any legal fight that may come from the vote.

“[the limited public forum] ensures that there is no endorsement of religion by the city whatsoever because the memorials that will be put up represent the citizens that put them up,” said Wardlow.