Fresh out of rational arguments against civil liberties like gay marriage or family planning, far-right reactionaries have taken to claiming religious freedom as an excuse to crush the freedoms of others. Team Kim Davis, for example, has argued that letting same-sex couples get married “constitutes religious persecution,” even going so far as to compare the homophobic county clerk to Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Last June, Michigan passed a law allowing state-funded adoption agencies to refuse to give custody to gay couples due to “religious objections” (a.k.a. church-enabled homophobia). Pharmacists and corporations have tried to use religious beliefs to justify preventing women from getting contraceptives. Then there was Indiana’s infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which threatened to institute a nightmarish system of theocratic bigotry until a massive backlash shamed the government into modifying the law.
For the most part, this strategy works pretty well. Religious freedom is one of the values the United States was founded on. Crying religious persecution is a good way to make your political opponents look like villains, even if your opponents are a perfectly nice lesbian couple trying to get medical care for their adorable baby or a woman trying not to die of a brain tumor.
In 2013, MLive reports, a Michigan woman sued after a Catholic hospital’s religious-based refusal to give her an abortion nearly caused her to die of a miscarriage. (The fetus died anyway.) The judge dismissed the lawsuit, in part because
It’s improper for courts to interfere in religious doctrinal decisions, which [Judge] Bell concluded was behind the anti-abortion policy directives. Considering the Muskegon woman’s negligence claim would “impermissibly intrude upon ecclesiastical matters,” the judge wrote in his opinion.
So it’s all right for religion to endanger public safety, but it’s not all right for the public to interfere with religion. What’s a sane, secular citizen to do?
One organization has come up with a diabolically brilliant solution.
Meet the Satanic Temple.
For years, the Satanic Temple has been using the Religious Right’s favorite weapon against it by exploiting religious freedom laws to fight for civil liberties. Here are a few of its glorious campaigns.
1. They made Reverend Phelps’s mother gay in the afterlife
In 2014, members of the Satanic Temple performed a “Pink Mass” over the grave of the mother of ultra-homophobic Westboro Baptist Church founder Reverend Fred Phelps. The ritual, which apparently involved a pair of same-sex couples making out, was intended to make the late Mrs. Phelps gay in the afterlife. Local authorities and the Westboro Baptist Church were not pleased.
2. They upheld the Separation of Church and State with a giant Baphomet statue
In 2013, Oklahoma politicians installed a massive monument depicting the Ten Commandments at the state Capitol. Though the monument was privately-funded, critics claimed that it violated the Establishment Clause by officially endorsing Christianity. Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma’s executive director said, “When the government literally puts one faith on a pedestal, it sends a strong message to Oklahomans of other faiths that they are less than equal.”
To ensure that all religions would receive equal respect from the government of Oklahoma, the Satanic Temple unveiled a seven-foot tall statue of Baphomet and asked to have it installed next to the Ten Commandments monument. The crowdfunded monument depicts a seated Sabbatic goat flanked by a pair of adoring children. Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves, quoted in KFOR News, explained, “We decided to go with that [design] because it is a fairly traditional character. It also offers a lap that visitors can come to sit on, have their picture taken with.” It sounds like a wonderful resource for any metal band looking to shoot their next album cover.
Not wanting to let a massive demonic idol go to waste, the Satanic Temple has sought a new home for Baphomet. It turns out Arkansas also has a statue of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Capitol, and the Temple has wasted no time in petitioning the state legislature to make room for Satan right next to it. The Temple has warned that it is “prepared to pursue legal options if their application is rejected or ignored.”
3. They offered to perform gay weddings to fight the same-sex marriage ban
Before the Supreme Court lifted the ban on gay unions nationwide, Michigan was one of many states that forbade same-sex marriage. In response, the Satanic Temple offered to perform same-sex weddings in any state that still denied gay couples the right to marry.
Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves told the Metro Times, “In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder allows his loathing of homosexuals to trump his adhesion to the Constitution. What we’d like to do is school Snyder on the Constitution, and school him on the First Amendment by performing a gay marriage in Michigan. To us, marriage is a sacrament. We recognize it, and we think the state would have to recognize the marriage on religious liberty grounds.”
The Satanic Temple’s website explains, “Our position is that marriage is a religious sacrament and should be governed under the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty, which should prevail over state laws.”
Normally, homophobes use “religious freedom” as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people; it’s refreshing to see a church use religious freedom to defend the queer community against discrimination.
4. They thanked Florida Governor Rick Scott for bringing Satan into public schools
In 2012, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed controversial legislation that “allows an inspirational message to be delivered by students at a student assembly”. Though the bill avoided the use of religious language, its real intent, many claimed, was to bring mandatory prayer into public schools. Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to Gov. Scott asking him to veto the bill, explaining,
We believe that the ability to worship as one sees fit is a fundamental right that must be protected; however, this bill is a solution in search of a problem – private, voluntary prayer is already allowed in public schools. Students certainly have the right to pray in many circumstances so it is unnecessary to include prayers in school assemblies. Forcing prayer upon public-school students not only violates the rights of those students, it also demeans the spiritual significance of religious belief.
This had no effect on the Republican governor, who happily signed the bill into law.
In response, the Satanic Temple held a rally to praise Rick Scott for supporting the bill. On the steps of the Old Capital building, they held aloft a massive banner bearing the words HAIL SATAN! HAIL RICK SCOTT! and gave speeches thanking the governor for opening public schools up to the influence of El Diablo.
“We thought it’d be a good thing for religious diversity,” Satanic Temple Lucien Greaves told the Metro Times. “Surely Rick Scott meant this only for Christians, but if he opened the door, now the marginalized religions had the chance to come in.”
5. They sued for abortion rights on the grounds of religious freedom
The Satanic Temple has filed state and federal lawsuits against Missouri abortion restrictions, claiming that the restrictions violate their religious beliefs.
The restrictions in question, which are not limited to Missouri, require anyone seeking an abortion to undergo a 72-hour waiting period. Due to the scarcity of abortion clinics in many parts of the country, that 72-hour waiting period requires a person to miss several days of work to travel back and forth across the state.
The restrictions also include an Orwellian-named “Informed Consent” law that requires the patient to receive scientifically-inaccurate information intended to frighten or shame her out of going through with the procedure. In a post to Daily Kos, Satanic Temple spokesman Doug Mesner wrote,
As the Informed Consent materials are by no means a medical necessity, nor are they scientifically legitimate — and they even go so far as to proselytize a religious view (specifically that life begins at conception) — The Satanic Temple finds the compulsory nature of their dissemination a violation of a Satanist’s religious rights. Satanic Templars (adherents of The Satanic Temple’s tenets) believe that “the body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone” and that one’s decisions should be made with deference to the best available scientific information. On those grounds, the Informed Consent materials are rejected. As the 72-hour waiting period is justified as time necessary during which a woman should consider those materials, The Satanic Temple has drawn up a waiver of religious exemption from both the propaganda and waiting period, to be presented upon entering a clinic for the termination of a pregnancy.
After a member of the Satanic Temple, a woman known only as “Mary Doe,” found her waiver rejected by an abortion clinic, the Temple decided to take the matter to court. The Temple managed to raise over $30,000 through an Indiegogo campaign in order to pay for legal fees, attorneys, and, hopefully, expert witnesses.
The Satanic Temple’s suit is designed to exploit Missouri’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)–a bill similar to the infamous Indiana law enabling religious people to discriminate against LGBT people–in order to bypass the state’s restrictions on abortion. The Satanic Temple’s attorneys note,
The federal health insurance requirements at issue in Hobby Lobby were struck down because they compelled a business to buy employee health insurance coverage for contraceptives in violation of its owner’s religious beliefs. The Supreme Court recognized that the business owners in Hobby Lobby have the right to engage in business and buy health insurance for their employees in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs. A government requirement that business owners buy health insurance coverage for contraceptives offended their religious beliefs and therefore restricted their “exercise of religion,” in violation of the federal Restoration of Religious Freedom Act. Plaintiff has just as much right to get an abortion without government regulation that offends her religious beliefs as the Hobby Lobby owners have to buy health insurance without government regulation that offends their religious beliefs.
If a Christian can use religious exemption laws to violate health care regulations, why can’t a Satanist?
The suit had its first hearing before a Cole County judge on Sept. 28. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and state Attorney General Chris Koster filed a motion to dismiss, but as of this writing the judge has yet to come to a decision.
6. Promised to demonize a genocidal Catholic saint
On September 23, “Cool” Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra, an 18th-century monk who founded many Catholic missions in what later became California. Serra’s canonization created a great deal of controversy, however, because of his ugly history of committing human rights abuses against American Indians. Serra’s missions enslaved Indians and forced Catholicism upon them. The New York Times writes,
From 1769 to 1835, 90,000 Indians were baptized along the West Coast, from San Diego to San Francisco. Once baptized, they were not allowed to leave the missions, and those who did escape were rounded up by soldiers and returned.
The Indians were forced to shed their languages, dress, religion, food and marriage customs. Thousands died from exposure to European diseases to which they had no immunity. Of the approximately 310,000 Indians in 1769 in what is now California, only one-sixth remained a hundred years later, according to a University of California historian.
In light of that information, many American Indians were not happy about Serra’s sainthood.
Days after Pope Francis elevated Father Junipero Serra to sainthood, vandals struck the Carmel Mission where the remains of the controversial missionary are buried, toppling statues and damaging gravesites.
The vandals, who police say acted sometime Saturday night or early Sunday morning, splashed paint throughout the cemetery and basilica and scrawled “Saint of Genocide” on a headstone.
The Satanic Temple announced its plans to respond to Serra’s canonization by holding a ritual “demonizing” the priest in San Gabriel. Somehow, we doubt Cool Pope will be cool with this.
The Satanic Temple has no plans to slow down its political activism. They vow to continue the fight for reproductive freedom, telling Daily Kos, “So long as there are groups attempting to push their religious agenda to end choice for women, we will remain active.” On behalf of everyone with a uterus: thank you, Satan!
The Temple’s website also hints at future campaigns, promising that it “looks forward to hosting a number of events designed to build community and support worthy causes such as raising funds for local animal shelters. We plan to organize 5K runs as well as other civic-minded activities.”
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