Beliefs Brian Pellot: On Freedom Culture Ethics Institutions Opinion

All Hail Satan, First Amendment Champ

Satan
Satan

In the free speech battle between “good and evil,” I’m siding with Satan.

Satan

Satan 

On Sunday (Sept. 21), a black mass in Oklahoma drew a few dozen devil worshippers and a few hundred protesters, most of them Catholic.

Some prayerful opponents called the satanic ritual offensive and blasphemous. Fair enough. But was it dangerous?

Fox News religion contributor Father Jonathan Morris seemed to think so, calling on local officials to shut down the ceremony.

“They are provoking anger and hatred among the community. The city can step in and say, ‘That’s not worship, that’s not free speech, that’s mockery, and you’re inciting violence,’” Morris said. “I think at some point the government has to step in and say you can’t incite violence in the name of free speech.”

Black mass organizer Adam Daniels shot back against people of Morris’s mindset: “Every Sunday they [Christians] are in their pulpits blaspheming my god. And they have the right to do that, but I don’t have the right to do the same in return?”

Daniels does have that right in America. That’s why the black mass went ahead as scheduled.

The First Amendment protects acts and expressions some people find unpopular or offensive. Think neo-Nazis marching in predominantly Jewish towns, abortion opponents shouting outside reproductive health care facilities, poorly produced Islamophobic YouTube clips and Westboro Baptist Church.

Along with exerting their legitimate First Amendment rights in the U.S., groups of satanists, most notably the Satanic Temple in New York, have been spotlighting increasingly fuzzy church-state lines this year.

First there was the successfully funded Indiegogo campaign in January to erect a satanic statue next to a new Ten Commandments monument outside the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Then came the Harvard Black Mass in May, with reactions and protests similar to what we just witnessed in Oklahoma.

In July, reacting to the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS ruling that granted religious liberty rights to closely held corporations, the Satanic Temple announced that it would seek religious exemptions for women in states where informed consent laws require doctors to deliver what satanists consider to be “scientifically unfounded” and “medically invalid” information before an abortion can be performed. These laws violate the group’s belief in a “scientific understanding of the world,” leaders claim.

Earlier this month the Satanic Temple announced plans to distribute The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities in Florida public schools.

If evangelical Christians and atheists can leaflet public schools, so can satanists. If Judeo-Christian monuments and public expressions are constitutionally kosher, so is everything else. This all-or-nothing logic explains why Flying Spaghetti Monsters and Festivus poles have been cropping up alongside Nativity scenes at state capitols in recent years.

If Christians are uncomfortable with devout or flippant non-Christian faiths seeping into the public square, they’d be wise to remember that many people are uncomfortable when Jesus, God and the Bible appear in government-sponsored spaces. They’d also be wise to remember the Establishment Clause.

The Satanic Temple leaders know what they’re doing is blasphemous. That’s kind of the point. Their website states, “We embrace blasphemy as a legitimate expression of personal independence from counter-productive traditional norms…The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend.”

You may find some of their rituals offensive, but satanists have the right to perform them and the right to test constitutional limits. These rights must be preserved.

About the author

Brian Pellot

Brian Pellot is based in Cape Town, South Africa.

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