Iowa lawmaker calls for Gov. Kim Reynolds to remove Satanic Temple's display from Capitol

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A satanic display placed in the Iowa Capitol is unconstitutional, says an eastern Iowa lawmaker who is calling on Gov. Kim Reynolds to order its removal.

In the Dec. 8 edition of his Sherman Liberty Letter, Rep. Brad Sherman, whose district covers Iowa County and part of Johnson County, also calls "for clarifying legislation to be adopted in accordance with our State Constitution that prohibits satanic displays in our Capitol building and on all state owned property."

He proposes additional legislation to clear the way for displaying the Ten Commandments in all state buildings, including the Capitol, and in Iowa public schools.

The Satanic Temple of Iowa display at the Iowa Capitol.
The Satanic Temple of Iowa display at the Iowa Capitol.

But Sherman, a pastor, may not have wholehearted support of his initiative from other Republican legislators, some of whom say they would oppose the government limiting freedom of speech in reaction to the display, which will be in place for a total of two weeks.

Sherman: Iowa Constitution endorses God, and Satan is his enemy

State Rep. Brad Sherman, R-Williamsburg, speaks with state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, on the House floor at the Iowa Capitol.
State Rep. Brad Sherman, R-Williamsburg, speaks with state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, on the House floor at the Iowa Capitol.

The controversy began bubbling last week after a group that calls itself the Satanic Temple of Iowa, though it lists no physical location on its Facebook page, placed with state permission a small altar on the first floor of the Capitol. It displays what are described online as the "seven fundamental tenets" of Satanism, including the statement that "the freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend."

Completing the display are the temple's seal, electric candles and a caped figure representing the pagan idol Baphomet, holding a ribbon-bedecked pentangle and topped with a gilded ram's head.

Sherman says the exhibit has drawn widespread "outrage and disgust" among Iowans, "but few people think there is much that can be legally done about it because of free speech and freedom of religion."

"However," he adds, "I disagree."

He points to the preamble to the Iowa Constitution, which says, "WE THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF IOWA, grateful to the Supreme Being for the blessings hitherto enjoyed, and feeling our dependence on Him for a continuation of those blessings, do ordain and establish a free and independent government, by the name of the State of Iowa... ."

"According to these opening lines of our Constitution, the foundation for laws and continued blessing and success in Iowa is based on these points: 1. There is One Supreme God. 2. Blessings over this state come from the One Supreme God. 3. We must depend upon the One Supreme God if we want to enjoy continued blessings," Sherman writes.

He says it is "a tortured and twisted interpretation of law that affords Satan, who is universally understood to be the enemy of God, religious expression equal to God in an institution of government that depends upon God for continued blessings."

Nativity to be installed at Capitol this week

Some other Iowans who have viewed the display were likewise offended.

"I'm here today because this is so anti-Christian, so anti-Iowa," Evelyn Nikkel, a Christian praying in the Capitol rotunda, said last week.

Nikkel said a Nativity will be coming to the Capitol at noon Tuesday and then Iowans can see the "real reason for the season." Iowa Sen. Cherielynn Westrich, a Republican representing Ottumwa and Albia, affirmed the plan on Facebook.

State Rep. Jon Dunwell, R-Newton, on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter, and on Facebook has tried to explain why the display was allowed. He's experienced considerable blowback in response, though he says that as an ordained minister and "as a follower of Christ, I certainly find a display from the Satanic Temple objectionable."

He says those who put up the display followed all the rules required to do so, adding that "the current operating principle has been to either allow all displays or none."

The Legislature can try to change those rules, he says, but "my observation as an Iowan and a State Representative, I don’t want the state evaluating and making determinations about religions. I am guided by the First Amendment of the US Constitution."

"The display is an inanimate object that has no real power in and of itself. We have nothing to fear," he says, adding that "the primary response required is prayer."

Lawmakers: Compromising rights a bigger threat than satanic display

The Satanic Temple of Iowa display at the Iowa Capitol.
The Satanic Temple of Iowa display at the Iowa Capitol.

Dunwell calls for reviewing the guidelines for displays "to ensure they represent our constitutional rights"; monitoring the number of organizations that request displays to prevent the Capitol from being "overwhelmed" by them; and continuing "to dialogue with other elected officials and Iowans on this issue."

Dunwell, in a posting Sunday, pushed back at responses condemning his position.

"I would rather have an evil blasphemous display or no display at all than have the state dictate what they think is appropriate," he says, adding he has been "SHOCKED so many want to give up their freedom, so they don’t have to see a display they disagree with."

Rep. Steve Holt, a Republican from Crawford County, said that while he agrees with Sherman on a philosophical level, he believes Iowans have the right to disagree about religion. In an interview, he said decisions about civil liberties can't just be based on the state constitution alone.

Iowa state Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison.
Iowa state Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison.

"We also have the federal constitution, we have the Bill of Rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, (which) are just foundational values of our country… So while I totally hold a total disdain anything that this organization stands for, I nonetheless believe they have the constitutionally protected right to put up the display," he said.

Holt said that in the time he has been in office, many atheist displays as well as Nativity scenes have been erected in the Capitol. Nativities periodically have been displayed in the Capitol at least since 2016, when the Freedom from Religion Foundation responded with a "Nativity" for the Bill of Rights.

"I think this is a test," Holt said of the current satanic display. "I think this is really a test of just how, how strong your allegiance is to the Constitution and the concepts of free speech and free religion. It's easy to say you believe in those things when the speech is not that objectionable to you. But when the speech is really, really highly objectionable and offensive, unless it otherwise breaks the law, are you going to stand up for the constitutional rights of others or are you not?"

Satanic Temple founder: Ignore display if it offends you

Lucien Greaves, spokesman and co-founder of the Satanic Temple, said it is always important for the group to seek equal representation in public forums that are open for religious displays.

"People assume that we're there to insult Christians and we're not," Greaves said. "And I would hope that even people who disagree with the symbolism behind our values, whether they know what those values (are) or not, would at least appreciate that it's certainly a greater evil to allow the government to pick and choose between forms of religious expression."

More: Parents in a Connecticut town worry as 'After School Satan Club' plans meeting

Greaves said individuals are not being forced to interact with the display and don't have to engage with it.

Staff writer Katie Akin contributed to this article.

Noelle Alviz-Gransee is a breaking news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Follow her on Twitter @NoelleHannika or email her at

Victoria Reyna-Rodriguez is a general assignment reporter for the Register. Reach her or follow her on Twitter@VictoriaReynaR.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Satanic display at Iowa Capitol: GOP lawmakers disagree on response