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  1. Florida Politics

Satanic Temple's holiday display at Florida Capitol damaged

John and Jean Porgal of the group American Atheists take photos Tuesday of damage to a Satanic Temple holiday display they installed the day before at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee. A woman damaged the display.
John and Jean Porgal of the group American Atheists take photos Tuesday of damage to a Satanic Temple holiday display they installed the day before at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee. A woman damaged the display.
Published Dec. 24, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's Capitol has displayed a Pabst Blue Ribbon Festivus pole, atheist banners and even a tribute to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But a display showing an angel falling into flames with the message "Happy Holidays from the Satanic Temple" was too much for one woman, police said.

The woman damaged the satanic display Tuesday, a day after an atheist group put it up as a counter to a nativity scene that was set up by a Christian group.

Susan Hemeryck, 54, of Tallahassee entered the Capitol at 11:23 a.m. and told an on-duty police officer that "she was sorry and had to take the satanic display," according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement probable-cause affidavit.

When the woman was advised not to remove the temple's fallen-angel display from its table, the affidavit said Hemeryck "reached forward and began to rip apart the display."

"The angel's dead," said John Porgal, the regional director of American Atheists, when he arrived at the Capitol to see the figurine lying alone on a table. "We've been tolerant of their display. We didn't like it, but we tolerated it. You see what they did to our display."

Hemeryck was charged with criminal mischief, a second-degree misdemeanor. The FDLE valued the diorama at less than $200.

Atheist groups last year began taking advantage of the Capitol's free-speech zone after a Christian group installed a manger scene showing the birth of Jesus. The display last year included a Festivus pole in tribute to a holiday created on Seinfeld that satirizes the commercialism of Christmas and a display by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which mocks beliefs that a god created the universe by instead arguing all that exists was created by a plate of pasta and meatballs.

The Satanic Temple display was rejected as "grossly offensive" last year, but this year, the state Department of Management Services gave its approval following threats of legal action from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Porgal said he plans to leave the display in its damaged state "as a sign of what the religious right's idea of tolerance is."

Pam Olsen, who organized the manger on display, said she doesn't approve of the attack.

"I'm actually very sad that she felt motivated to do that," Olsen said. "I do not like the display. I think it's rude and it's sad that he put it up to protest the nativity that means so much to millions of people, however I don't think anyone should ever vandalize anything. Free speech is free speech whether we like it or not."

Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.