BELLE PLAINE, Minn. (KMSP) - A Belle Plaine, Minnesota veterans memorial now has a daily security detail, as veterans advocates aim to push back on a city decision to remove part of a statue.
The City of Belle Plaine and the city’s veteran’s club agreed to remove a cross from the statue, after receiving a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The foundation says the display violates the separation of church and state.
The memorial in question is a silhouette of a soldier kneeling at the grave of a fallen comrade. The headstone he kneels before is a cross.
“The cross represents a grave marker,” said Albert Koepp of the Belle Plaine Veterans Club. “I never thought anything of it.”
The memorial, donated by a Belle Plaine veteran, was installed in the park over the summer. It was removed earlier this week.
“It’s just frustrating to see that one person or two people in a town are allowed to speak for a town of over 3,000 people,” said Katie Novotny who started a movement to display crosses in Belle Plaine businesses and front yards, in protest to the removal in veterans park.
Makeshift crosses also popped up at the memorial. By Sunday night, there were 18 wooden crosses where the one used to stand.
“People started vandalizing them, destroying them, making them disappear,” explained ‘Wrong House’ of the Second Brigade Motorcycle Club. “It’s not about religion. This is what our soldiers do out in the field—it’s about our veterans.”
The motorcycle club arrived at the park Sunday, following a call from Jeff Hom of Apple Valley. Hom is member of the Patriot Guard Riders and spent a few nights alone in the park, hoping to protect it from further vandalism.
The Second Brigade Motorcycle Club has now settled at the memorial, telling Fox 9 they have no plans of leaving.
“This is what we support, this is what the community supports and we’re here to back that up,” said ‘Wrong House’.
In a statement posted to Novotny’s Facebook page, Belle Plaine Mayor Chris Meyer said, “Although this situation affects many people on a personal and emotional level, the city is bound legally to comply with the Constitution including the First Amendment establishment clause. The city continues to honor veterans and respects the rights of all persons.”