May 2015 Church & State | People & Events

Susan Hemeryck, the self-described “Catholic warrior” who vandalized a display by the Satanic Temple in the state capitol rotunda in Tallahassee, Fla., will not be prosecuted even though she confessed to the crime.

In March, Florida prosecutors announced that all charges against Hemeryck were being dropped, despite the fact that she admitted to police officers that she attacked the display because she considered it offensive, and she was captured on surveillance video attempting to carry it off.

The justification for this decision, officials said, is because videotape of Hemeryck doesn’t show her damaging the display, merely carrying it.

There is no dispute that on Dec. 23, Hemeryck, who had no prior criminal record, walked into the rotunda and attacked the Satanic Temple’s display. She yanked down an angel, which had been suspended with a piece of fishing line above flames, and attempted to walk off with the diorama before police stopped her.

Hemeryck later bragged about pulling the angel off the fishing line. But according to officials in the state attorney’s office, that does not matter because in their opinion, the diorama was inexpensive to create.

“The quality is akin to a school science fair project – cardboard and paint,” prosecutors wrote.

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 public 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.

In a “Wall of Separation” blog post, Americans United Director of Communications Rob Boston wondered how the situation would have been handled if a Christian display were harmed.

“Imagine if this had been a Christian display,” Boston wrote. “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?”

As for Hemeryck, she said she has no remorse over her attempt to stifle someone else’s free speech.

“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.”