Fighting Discrimination

Intolerant vandal who attacked Satanic display in Iowa pleads guilty

  Rob Boston

Last December, a man named Michael Cassidy traveled from his home in Mississippi to Des Moines, Iowa, where he walked into the state capitol and vandalized a display that had been erected by the Satanic Temple.

The Iowa capitol is considered to be a public forum, and during the holiday season, several religious groups were permitted to erect displays there. They put them up on their own time with their own dime because that’s how free speech works. The Temple, a nontheistic group that supports church-state separation, had created a display consisting of a silver head of the Pagan idol Baphomet with a red robe and a wreath standing behind an altar. The display was accompanied by a sign making it clear that it was “not owned, maintained or promoted, supported or associated with the State of Iowa.”

‘I felt that I should remove it’

But Cassidy, who had run unsuccessfully for public office in Mississippi, didn’t care about the Temple’s legal right to be there alongside other groups. His actions were deliberate, and after he essentially destroyed the Temple’s display, Cassidy turned himself in to security. He later told the media, “When I saw it, I was confronted with how evil it was and felt convicted that I should remove it.”

The good news is that Cassidy is going to pay for what he did. He has agreed to plead guilty to a count of third-degree criminal mischief, which in Iowa is an aggravated misdemeanor. He had been facing felony charges, including a hate-crime component, but as is common in cases like this, his attorney worked out a plea bargain.

The Des Moines Register reported that under the terms of the deal, which a court still must approve, Cassidy will receive two years of probation, will be fined $855 and will have to make restitution to the Temple. In addition, Temple officials will have the right to request that he take part in a victim-offender dialogue with their representatives. (Hat tip to Blogger Hemant Mehta for doing a deep dive on this story.)

This vandal is no hero

Before anyone complains that the sentence is too lenient, remember this: In a similar case from 2014, a woman named Susan Hemeryck vandalized a display by the Satanic Temple at the Florida Capitol building and received no punishment at all. (The Temple won permission to erect the display only after Americans United threatened to sue.) Like Cassidy, Hemeryck freely admitted what she had done, remarking “I couldn’t allow it to happen. I was there at the right time and the right moment, and I needed to take a stand against Satan.” Despite her admitted guilt, the charges against Hemeryck were later dropped.

Christian Nationalist groups have tried to portray Cassidy as a hero, going so far as to raise huge sums for his defense. But the man is no hero. He’s an admitted lawbreaker who will be punished for his intolerance.

And that’s exactly as it should be.

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