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News / Churches & Religion

A Mississippi House candidate is charged after a Satanic Temple display is destroyed at Iowa Capitol

By SCOTT MCFETRIDGE and JIM SALTER, Associated Press
Published: December 15, 2023, 10:09am

DES MOINES, Iowa — A Satanic Temple display inside the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines was destroyed, and a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot running for a statehouse seat in Mississippi is accused of the damage.

The display is permitted by rules that govern religious installations inside the Capitol but has drawn criticism from many conservatives, including presidential candidate Ron DeSantis. A Facebook posting by The Satanic Temple on Thursday said the display, known as a Baphomet statue, “was destroyed beyond repair,” though part of it remains.

Michael Cassidy, 35, of Lauderdale, Mississippi, was charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief, the Iowa Department of Public Safety said Friday. He was released after his arrest.

Cassidy is a Republican running for a seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives. The biography on his campaign website says he served as a Navy fighter pilot and a pilot instructor. He describes himself as a “Christian conservative who loves our nation and is committed to preserving the blessings of liberty bestowed upon us by the Founding generation.”

Messages left Friday with Cassidy and with The Satanic Temple were not immediately returned.

On Friday, part of the display remained at the site in the Capitol. A lone man, who declined to give his name, sat in front of the display and recited Christian prayers, making references to Jesus. It wasn’t immediately clear if he was a supporter or detractor of the Satanic Temple.

The display is on the east side of the Capitol beside a column and an ornate staircase. It’s about 100 feet from a Christmas tree displayed in the Capitol rotunda.

Founded in 2013, the Salem, Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple doesn’t believe in Satan but describes itself as a “non-theistic religious organization” that advocates for secularism. It is separate from the Church of Satan, which was founded in the 1960s.

The display caught Cassidy’s attention earlier this week. On Tuesday, he reposted a message on X, formerly known as Twitter, that included two photos — one of a Thomas Jefferson statue being removed from an unspecified location, and one of the Satanic Temple display.

“We have reached the point where our Capitols are removing Jefferson while monuments to Satan are erected,” the message read.

A fund was set up to raise money for Cassidy’s legal defense following his arrest. After $20,000 was raised, Cassidy wrote on X that the fundraising was halted.

But late Friday morning, Cassidy wrote that he had “been notified of more potential legal charges unfortunately, so I’ve opened the legal fund donation back up.”

A message left with the Polk County Attorney’s office wasn’t immediately returned.

Last year, Cassidy ran against incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael Guest and lost in a primary runoff after fewer than 300 votes separated them in the primary. Guest won the runoff with nearly 70% of the vote.

DeSantis, the Florida governor who frequently campaigns in Iowa ahead of next month’s caucuses, on Tuesday said former President Donald Trump’s administration was partly to blame for the existence of the display, the Des Moines Register reported. Trump was president in 2019 when the Internal Revenue Service determined that The Satanic Temple should be designated a church.

Polls show Trump with a wide lead over DeSantis and other Republicans running for president.

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