May 7, 2014

Satanists Fight for First Amendment as SCOTUS Shreds It

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

An excellent column in the Chicago Tribune underscores the pernicious effect of this week's Supreme Court decision allowing prayer in town council meetings. Eric Zorn asks readers to try a thought experiment. Imagine moving into a new town and finding that getting the required variance for a small home construction project means sitting through a homily by an LDS Bishop on the wonders of Joseph Smith and the supremacy of Mormonism. You'd probably get your variance, but if you're anything but Mormon, you'd also feel a lot less comfortable in your new home.

Switch around the variables in my hypothetical if you want. Make the community leaders predominantly Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or adherents of Scientology. Put yourself in the role of The Other.

Such basic empathy is notably lacking in a spate of legal fights over First Amendment protections. Freedom of religion is being redefined as the right of some groups to impose their religious beliefs on "the other" and with state sanction.

This recent SCOTUS decision bodes ill as we await a decision on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Inc.

Not only do such decisions entitle some religious groups to disenfranchise people who don't want to be bound by religious authority, and don't want their life choices to be dictated by religion-based decisions of any public or private entity, they disenfranchise people of different religious conviction. They actually restrict the religious freedom.

The assumption always seems to be that the religious argument will be the most regressive as it relates to social issues. This is simply not the case. For instance, as discussed here, any restriction on birth control and abortion violates the religious tenets of Judaism.

Similarly, as I've argued many times, laws against same-sex marriage don't just impose a less than sound Biblical viewpoint on the non-religious, they restrict the chosen practice of religious organizations that wish to conduct same-sex weddings.

The Wild Hunt gives a good overview of the legal issues in something of a test case in North Carolina.

Eight North Carolina clergy, an entire Protestant denomination and several same sex couples seeking to be married filed the country’s first faith-based challenge to same-sex marriage bans claiming North Carolina’s laws blocks them from practicing their religion. In 2012 North Carolina voters approved an amendment to their constitution defining marriage and civil unions as limited to one man and one woman. The lawsuit alleges previous state marriage statutes, when combined with the amendment, impose fines on clergy who bless the wedding of any couple who doesn’t have a valid marriage license issued by state. They further claim this unconstitutionally restricts religious freedom by barring clergy from free exercise of their religion.

The preferential treatment of one or some religions over others is one of the key reasons the Jeffersonian Wall is so important. It doesn't restrict the free exercise of religion. It protects it. It just doesn't allow state sanction to impose it. Says Zorn:

But the majority blew a new hole in that wall instead, specifically saying that even to require such government-sponsored prayers to be nondenominational would impermissibly allow lawmakers and the courts "to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech."

Yet the same justices said such prayers must not "denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion," which, of course, will require lawmakers and the courts to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.

The Satanic Temple has decided to test the government's ability to protect minority religions and their ability to express themselves in the public sphere.

Back in January, The Satanic Temple, a New York-based religious organization, used Indiegogo to successfully fund the creation of their proposed Satanic monument, which they hope will be erected at the statehouse to “complement and contrast the 10 Commandments monument that resides there now.”

. . .

The Satanic Temple had the idea to have a statue of their own design erected at the Oklahoma Capitol after a religious Ten Commandants monument was installed there in 2012, sparking protests from the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. While The Satanic Temple submitted an application with their a design proposal for a Baphomet statue and has far-surpassed their funding goal, the Preservation Commission, the decision-makers in this case, recently voted to place a moratorium on considering further new statue requests until the aforementioned ACLU lawsuit is decided upon. That means, the Satanists on still on hold at this point.

It will come as a shocker to no one that Oklahoma lawmakers don’t like the idea of having a monument donated by a Satanic group adorning the lawn of their Capitol building, even if it will provide more public seating (Baphomet’s lap is meant to serve as a seat for visitors). Oklahoma Rep. Earl Sears called The Satanic Temple’s request to erect their monument in his state “an insult to the good people of the state,” according to the AP. “I do not see Satanism as a religion, and they have no place at the state Capitol,” said the Republican House member.

So who made Rep. Earl Sears, or any other legislator, the arbiter of what is and isn't a religion? Therein lies the problem of state sponsored religion.

Much like LaVey's Church of Satan, The Satanic Temple seems to exist to challenge authority and rattle the cages. And similarly, their stated goals belie the popular conception Satanists as ritual abusers and servants of evil.

The truth regarding Satanism has been unfortunately obscured by a history of delirious, paranoid conspiracy theories, blood libel, and imaginative inaccuracies. Just as ancient Pagans demonized early Christians, and Christians in turn demonized Pagans and Jews, so too are Satanists popularly demonized as a result of misunderstandings, intolerance, and fear-mongering opportunism.

While underlying causes of witch-hunts — ancient and modern — are generally recognized to have their sociological origins in factors independent of the actual existence of witches or Satanists, evidence nonetheless suggests the regular appearance of Satanic devotees extending far back into Western civilized history. Historical reports of early Satanism are often colored by fears of an anti-human “other”, however, the literary history of Satan — from Milton to Anatole France — suggests that biblical interpretations of a humanistic, benevolent Satan, driving our highest aspirations and encouraging human compassion have resonated for centuries. Though not professed Satanists themselves, we nonetheless consider Milton and France’s works inspired texts that best capture the Satanic archetype as a symbol of revolt against the tyranny of autocracy as well as the tyranny of archaic dogmas… a literary Satan that holds primacy in the corporeal world from which God is permanently detached.

The Satanic cults of conspiracy theory folklore have no basis in historical fact, nor is there any evidence of a single line of Satanic tradition that has persisted, unbroken, parallel, and in opposition to, the openly practiced religions of our Civilization’s history.

Plus the statue's kind of cool.

Should the ACLU prevail in its battle against Oklahoma's ten commandments monument -- something I'm less confident in every day -- it's off to other church/state battles.

Greaves has made it clear that the group would no longer petition to have the statue installed should the ten commandments monument be removed, but he isn't concerned about finding somewhere else to place the statue should they fail to get permission in Oklahoma. "There are no shortage of public locations across the US where religious monuments await a contrasting voice," he tells Vice, which first published photos of the statue. And they're prepared should demonstrators destroy the statue: they're holding onto the cast and plan to take out an insurance policy on the statue.

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