Susan Hemeryck, the self-described “Catholic warrior” who vandalized a display by the Satanic Temple in the state capitol rotunda in Tallahassee, Fla., is getting off scot-free.
You read that right. All charges against Hemeryck were dropped, even though she admitted to police officers that she attacked the display because she considered it offensive.
As you might recall, Americans United represented the Satanic Temple, a group that extols reason and doesn’t literally worship Satan, last year in a flap over December holiday displays at the rotunda.
State officials allowed Christian, Jewish, Humanist and other groups to display signs and symbols in the area but were reluctant to extend that same right to the Temple, calling its display “grossly offensive.”
Attorneys with Americans United pointed out that once government officials have opened up a forum, they can’t restrict speech simply because they don’t like the message. Florida officials reluctantly agreed and allowed Temple members to display a diorama depicting an angel falling into a pit of flames.
On Dec. 23, Hemeryck walked into the rotunda and attacked the display. She yanked down the angel, which had been suspended with a piece of fishing line, and attempted to carry off the diorama before police stopped her.
Hemeryck admitted what she did and boasted about it in the media. “I just yanked that little devil off the fishing line,” Hemeryck told the Associated Press. “I should have just done a better job and finished it off for good.”
With a confession in hand, the case against Hemeryck looked airtight. Yet officials in the state attorney’s office dismissed the charges, holding that a videotape of Hemeryck doesn’t show her damaging the display, merely carrying it.
Hmmmm. Maybe that’s because she was trying to steal it? As for the damage, Hemeryck bragged about pulling the angel off the fishing line. Yes, the diorama was reassembled, with the angel standing in the flames – but there was damage. Hemeryck herself admitted that.
But according to officials in the state attorney’s office, none of this matters – because the diorama isn’t fancy enough.
“The quality is akin to a school science fair project –cardboard and paint,” prosecutors wrote.
So, apparently in Florida, you can trash someone else’s artwork and property – as long as the prosecutors decide that they didn’t spend enough money making it. That’s interesting to know.
Imagine if this had been a Christian display. Imagine if it had been a simple Nativity scene, perhaps one made from cardboard and paint with a few plastic figures included. Now imagine someone walks into the rotunda, states publicly that the display is offensive and knocks it down – and then boasts about it to arresting officers and news reporters.
What do you think would happen to that person? Do you think all charges would be dropped?
Hemeryck had no prior criminal record, and no one suggested she serve time behind bars for her intolerant act. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the normal procedure in a case like this would have been a plea bargain with Hemeryck offering a public apology as perhaps doing some community service.
As it is, she won’t be punished at all. And, in fact, she has no remorse.
“I was not afraid of going to trial,” Hemeryck told the Tallahassee Democrat. “I wanted the jury to know that I did not act criminally as wrongly portrayed, but [as] a devout Catholic following the church’s teaching for non-violent and peaceful opposition of evil.”
If the Satanic Temple plans to display its diorama again later this year, they might want to consider hiring a full-time guard to protect it from vandals. Apparently, they can’t rely on the state for that.