A sculpture of a pentagram, erected in a public park in Boca Raton, Florida, as a protest to the park’s Nativity scene has been torn down by vandals.
The 300-pound, 10-foot-tall metal display was severely damaged Tuesday when someone attached a chain from a vehicle and pulled the sculpture to the ground. Tire tracks led to the street, according to CBS News.
The red pentagram was erected by atheist Preston Smith about 20 feet away from the yearly traditional Nativity scene. A banner next to the sculpture reads “Keep Saturn in Saturnalis,” referring to the belief that the early Christian church substituted a Roman pagan holiday with Christmas.
According to Boca Raton police, it’s the third time the display and the banner have been attacked since it was placed in Sanborn Square Park earlier this month.
Smith, who is an English teacher at a middle school, stated he does not believe in God nor Satan, but is using the Satanic symbol to emphasize his belief that religious displays should not be placed on public property, saying they make non-believers “feel like second-class citizens.”
The night before the most recent vandalism incident, Smith told reporters, “We are here to call out Christian hypocrisy and theistic bias in taxpayer-funded public arenas while advocating for the separation of church and state. Our ultimate goal is to return the government to its viewpoint neutral stance so that when an atheist takes a stroll through the park we aren’t assaulted by Bronze Age mythology.”
Smith referred to the defacement of the display as “examples of mob mentality toward minority faiths.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that government agencies can allow religious displays on public property, but cannot discriminate.
The city issued a statement saying though it does not support Smith’s message, it respects his free-speech rights. “In years past, the seasonal, religious displays in Sanborn Square have contained messages projecting the themes of peace, forgiveness and harmony,” the statement said. “This display appears to be more about shock value, attention and challenging our commitment to constitutionally protected free speech rather than promoting goodwill, respect and tolerance during the holiday season.”
This isn’t the first time Florida has seen controversy over religious holiday symbols. In 2013, a Festivus pole made of beer cans was erected at the state capitol near a display of a manger. In 2014, a depiction of an angel falling into flames with the message “Happy Holidays from the Satanic Temple” was displayed at the capitol. The latter was later damaged by vandals.