The Christian right continues to march us towards an autocratic theocracy where their religion reigns supreme and pregnant people have no right to control their own bodily autonomy. Recently, the Satanic Temple has joined the fight against this incursion—often using conservatives’ own arguments against them.
Whether it’s filing lawsuits challenging abortion restrictions in Missouri on the basis that Satanism views one’s body as “inviolable,” and “subject to one’s will alone,” or using the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby to advocate for its own sincerely held religious beliefs, the Satanic Temple is serious about advocating for the bodily autonomy of pregnant people.
The Temple is also serious about being accepted as a proper religion, and not just associated with the lingering “Satanic Panic” that swept the nation in the 1980s—during which mass hysteria about children being lured into the clutches of satanic cults masquerading as day-care centers, and forced to endure physical and emotional abuses including watching the mass slaughter of animals, swept the nation.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the Temple is now testing whether claims of religious freedom apply to all religions—like Satanism—or just culturally favored ones.
The Temple announced last week that it plans to file a religious discrimination lawsuit challenging the erection of a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Arkansas Capitol. The Temple claims that the state’s acceptance and erection of the Ten Commandments monument, combined with the rejection of the Temple’s monument, demonstrates that Arkansas is showing an unconstitutional preference for one religion over another.
Some background is in order. Until recently, the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission could consider new monuments and make recommendations to the legislature for the legislature’s approval, according to the Arkansas Times. In February of last year, however, Arkansas lawmakers passed a bill—HB 1273—that prevents the commission from even starting the process unless the legislature approves the monuments first.
The bill, which was the brainchild of state Rep. Kim Hammer (R-Benton), was aimed at a monument plan for an eight-and-a-half foot tall bronze statue of Baphomet—the goat-headed pagan god—that the Satanic Temple had submitted a few weeks prior. The commission said that the plan could move forward for the public comment period before going to the legislature.
This caused consternation among Arkansan lawmakers who, according to the Arkansas Times, did not relish the spectacle of public hearings for a group of Satanists, and wanted to nip the shenanigans in the bud.
The problem is that a group of Republicans led by state Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) had already rushed through a plan to erect a monument to the Ten Commandments on Capitol grounds. In 2015, Rapert backed a law that would require the state to permit such a monument. The monument was erected in June 2017, but within 24 hours, a man named Michael Tate Reed rammed the monument with his car while yelling “Freedom.” He was arrested. (It wasn’t his first monument-related arrest: In 2014, Reed destroyed the Ten Commandments monument that was erected near Oklahoma’s state capitol, according to the Guardian. He apologized later and said he was suffering from delusions and heard voices.) Another monument was erected again last week.
Rapert appears to have recognized that prioritizing one religion over another would run afoul of the Constitution; the law includes language that the placement of the monument at the Capitol should not be “construed to mean the state of Arkansas favors any particular religion or denomination over another.” But, as the Satanic Temple noted in its press release announcing the lawsuit, “if the bill itself couldn’t be construed as religious favoritism, the state’s rejection of other religious viewpoints certainly is.”
In the press release, Lucien Greaves, the founder and spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, called Rapert a “mindless tool for theocratic interests originating outside of Arkansas.” Greaves notes that Rapert’s bill uses identical language that the Oklahoma legislature used in its failed attempt to maintain a Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma capitol.
In addition, Rapert’s behavior belies the bill’s attempt to skirt constitutional scrutiny, according to Greaves.
“Rapert has taken to local pulpits declaring the United States a ‘Christian Nation,’ openly discussing his agenda to bring his religion alone to the public square, to the exclusion of all others,” Greaves said in a statement.
“But Satanism isn’t a religion,” you may be thinking. “It’s smokey-eyed Goth types doing blood rituals and animal sacrifices while scribbling pentagrams on every hard surface they can find.” That’s certainly how it has been portrayed in the media, and it’s not unusual you might think that. For my part, I’d never known what the Satanic Temple was all about until the organization filed suit a few years ago challenging Missouri’s 72-hour waiting period and informed consent laws.
Members of the Satanic Temple do not worship the devil, contrary to popular belief. According to the Temple’s website, it is “a nontheistic religious organization dedicated to Satanic practice and the promotion of Satanic rights.”
“The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will,” it reads.
“The Temple understands the Satanic figure as a symbol of man’s inherent nature, representative of the eternal rebel, enlightened inquiry and personal freedom rather than a supernatural deity or being,” the release continues.
In addition, “[t]he Satanic Temple believes that all people are entitled to make informed decisions about their health, family and future without coercion. The philosophical and religious opinions of some should not be used legislate morality. The attempt to do so violates American foundational values of freedom and liberty,” according to the Detroit chapter’s website.
The Temple also seems to understand that there is a battle for the soul of this country right now, with evangelicals trying to march us down the path towards Gilead, and if allying with Satanists will keep that from happening, then I’m on board especially since their views are—much to my surprise—aligned with mine. In the case of this lawsuit, it seems clear that Arkansas is both conflating Christian ideology with state matters and prioritizing one religion over another.
So while they may not hail Satan—because they are not devil worshippers—I am hailing Satanists. Unlike evangelical Christians, who incessantly whine about religious freedom while restricting the rights of others, the Satanic Temple is actually advocating for religious freedom, in addition to bodily autonomy for pregnant people.
So all hail Satanists. Keep fighting the good fight.