Florida recently dropped all charges against a woman who vandalized your holiday display. Do you have any comment?
This past holiday season, Susan Hemeryck – dressed in a T-shirt printed with the words “Catholic Warrior” – was arrested in the Florida Capitol Rotunda as she attempted to dismantle a holiday display
placed there by The Satanic Temple. In an act of petty vandalism, which she fully confessed to, Hemeryck told the Associated Press, “I should have just done a better job and finished it off for good.” Completely ignorant of the criminality in her behavior, Hemeryck released a statement that claimed, in part, "I was not afraid of going to trial [...] I wanted the jury to know that I did not act criminally as wrongly portrayed, but a devout Catholic following the Church's teaching for non-violent and peaceful opposition of evil."
Remarkably, prosecutors in Florida vindicated this complete disregard for law last week when they decided, due to “lack of evidence,” to drop all charges. Clearly, Hemeryck did attempt to destroy the display, but that apparently does not matter. Prosecutors were not convinced the display had been, in fact, sufficiently damaged. "The defendant [was] simply carrying the display," court records say (according to the Tallahassee Democrat
). "No damages are apparent – it is simply disassembled."
Think, for a moment, what a remarkable precedent this sets, if one is to make the unlikely assumption that Florida is willing to treat all offenders equally. It translates into a carte blanche to rearrange the interior of the Capitol at-will, so long as minimal-to-zero physical damage is discernable. One might reasonably expect no consequences at all for moving potted plants into open doorways, re-hanging paintings upside, overturning trash bins, or even attempting to walk off of the premises with items belonging to somebody else (as Hemeryck clearly did).
I reached out to Greg Lipper of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State to ask his opinion of the situation. Via email, he replied: “The district attorney's explanation doesn't make sense: the display was damaged and the vandal admitted that she attacked the display because she disliked its message. If the tables were turned – if a self-proclaimed "Satanic Warrior" had vandalized a Nativity Scene – it is impossible to imagine that she would have gotten away with it. In a diverse society built on the rule of law, the same rules are supposed to apply to everyone. That didn't happen here.”
Indeed, it did not. And, unfortunately, “prosecutorial discretion” will likely continue to allow the law to be applied unevenly.
Lucien Greaves is the pen name/pseudonym for Doug Mesner, spokesman for The Satanic Temple.