February 2024 Church & State Magazine - February 2024

Religious extremist vandalizes holiday display at Iowa Capitol

 

A Mississippi man traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, in December and vandalized a holiday display at the state capitol because he believed it was “evil.”

Michael Cassidy, 35, told the Des Moines Register that he had read about the display on social media and went to the Capitol to look at it. Cassidy said he didn’t go with the intention of vandalizing the display, but took action after seeing it.

Dangerous display? Satanic Temple’s symbol prior to vandalism

“I went to the Capitol to see the idol,” Cassidy, who unsuccessfully sought a seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives in 2023, told the newspaper. “When I saw it, I was confronted with how evil it was and felt convicted that I should remove it.”

Cassidy continued, “I pulled the head off the statue. The display seemed to be made of cheap material. I pulled it apart and put it in a garbage bag. Then I went to security and told them what I did.”

He added, “I grew up in a country that was founded on Christian principles and in America that generally promoted good ethics and public displays of virtue. The evil display and the lack of action surprised and offended me as a Christian.”

The Satanic Temple of Iowa had won the right to erect the display during the December holiday season because other groups were putting symbols in the Capitol. The display consisted of a silver head of the Pagan idol Baphomet with a red robe and a wreath standing behind an altar. A sign made it clear that the display was “not owned, maintained or promoted, supported or associated with the State of Iowa.”

Temple members don’t worship, or even believe in, a literal Satan. Rather, they view Satan as a metaphor to challenge dogmatic thinking. The first of the Temple’s Seven Fundamental Tenets reads, “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.”

Nevertheless, state officials, including Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), attacked the display and said they found it objectionable. She called on Iowans to pray at the Capitol and asserted on X (formerly Twitter) that “in the battle between good and evil, good will always prevail.”

Some lawmakers called for the display to be removed, while others recognized that the state can’t bar certain displays just because it finds the speech objectionable.

Members of the Temple said the display was damaged beyond repair.

Cassidy has been charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief. If found guilty, he could be fined $2,560 and face a year in prison. When word of his arrest became public, conservative websites began collecting money for his defense. The Register reported that more than $75,000 had been raised as of Dec. 20. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, said he would contribute.

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