The Satanic Temple an unlikely fighter for free speech, religious freedom

Print More

The Satanic Temple and its message of opposition to the merging of church and state appears to be growing, along with its membership.

“The Trump-Pence administration looks like it will provide us more and more opportunities to have our voice heard and establish our place in America,” said Shiva Honey, a member of The Satanic Temple and a resident of metro Detroit, in an email.

According to Honey, the Temple will continue to advance its message regardless of the administration in office, however, membership has certainly increased since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, but could not quote specific numbers.

Contrary to popular belief, the Satanic Temple does not worship the devil, instead describing themselves as a non-theistic religion whose mission is to “facilitate communication and mobilization of politically aware Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty.”

Members of the Temple are well-known for their intricate presentations and consistent protesting of religious displays on public grounds. This was one of the reasons why Honey was interested in joining.

“I researched protest movements in university, and was a fan of those that employed artful means and street theater to spread their message,” Honey said. “The Temple had an art about their work that really appealed to me but also seemed very strategic.”

Members of The Satanic Temple use street art as a demonstration against a pro-life national day of protest rally outside of a Planned Parenthood facility in Ferndale, Mich. Courtesy: Matt Anderson. August 2015.

In August 2015, Honey and other members of the Satanic Temple interrupted the pro-life national day of protest, incorporating street theater in front of Planned Parenthood facilities in Ferndale and Detroit.

“A fellow (Satanic Temple) member and I were bound in prayer and drowned in gallons of milk by male clergy to symbolize the effect theocratic legislation that limits reproductive rights has on women,” Honey said.

The Temple supports members protesting as long as protests are done effectively and even provides guidelines for doing so. As an organization, however, the Temple does not partake in mass protests unless it directly relates to their work.

On exhibit at the Satanic Temple’s international headquarters in Salem, Massachusetts sits the statue of Baphomet, a 9-foot tall horned goat deity, awaiting its relocation amongst other religious monuments.

In 2014, in an act of defiance against the Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol, the Temple offered to place its statue of Baphomet directly in front of the religious display.

While the statue of Baphomet never made it to the Capitol lawn, The Ten Commandments monument was eventually removed in 2015 after the Oklahoma Supreme Court found it in violation of the state constitution, which prohibits the use of public property to directly or indirectly benefit a “church denomination or system of religion.”

Baphomet’s statue was officially unveiled later that year in Detroit, where around 700 people gathered in an industrial warehouse near the Detroit River to view the Satanic icon.

Frank Ravitch, a professor who specializes in freedom of religion at the Michigan State University College of Law, describes the Temple’s strategies for challenging state and local governments as very effective.

“The choice is: deny (The Satanic Temple) the right, in which case the government is violating their free speech rights, or perhaps they’re proving they’re establishing religion; either way, government loses,” Ravitch said.

The Temple has said they have no problem with any particular religious organization or display. Rather, its fight is against government authority that provides preferential treatment toward a single viewpoint.

“Groups like this are really a big challenge,” said Ravitch, “but the bottom line is they’re challenging the boundaries of free speech and they’re fighting to protect it in a context where religious issues are being raised.”

In June, a different Ten Commandments monument was placed on the front lawn of the Arkansas State Capitol. In response, the Satanic Temple made an offer to have its statue of Baphomet be placed in front of the monument.

In February 2017, the application was blocked by the passing of House Bill 1273, which requires all monuments to have legislative approval before the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission can consider a monument proposal.

The Satanic Temple currently has a lawsuit pending against the state.

Comments are closed.