A woman was arrested Tuesday after she began to tear down a display by the Satanic Temple in the lobby of the Florida Capitol.
The Tallahassee Democrat reported that 54-year-old Susan Hemeryck told two Florida Department of Law Enforcement Capitol Police officers that she "was sorry and had to take down the Satanic display", adding that it was "not right."
The paper reported that when Hemeryck tried to remove the display, an officer stopped her and told her to put it back, saying that she was violating the law. Hemeryck responded that she "could not take it anymore" and began trying to tear down the display before she was arrested.
The display, which shows an angel falling into flames with the message "Happy Holidays from the Satanic Temple", had been erected Monday as a satire by an atheist group to counter a nativity scene which had already been taken down.
"It's just wrong, when you remove baby Jesus two days before Christmas and put Satan in his place — that just can't happen. I couldn't allow it to happen," Hemeryck, who said she was wearing a shirt that said "Catholic Warrior" when she arrived at the Capitol, told the Associated Press "I was there at the right time and the right moment and I needed to take a stand against Satan."
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 and argues instead that the universe was created by a plate of pasta and meatballs.
The Satanic Temple display was rejected as "grossly offensive" last year, but this year — following threats of legal action from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State — the state Department of Management Services gave its approval.
"The angel's dead," said John Porgal, regional director of American Atheists, when he arrived at the Capitol to see the angel 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."
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 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."
Hemeryck, who faces a charge of criminal mischief, said she has no criminal record and hasn't even had a speeding ticket in more than 15 years. And she had only one regret about Tuesday's incident.
"I just yanked that little devil off the fishing line," she said. "I should have just done a better job and finished it off for good."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.