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[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Satanic Versus...

So, the neutrality of state laws and policies allowing religious expression on public property are being tested. But by whom?

Could it be. . . Satan:
One of the favorite myths that Christian conservatives like to tell about themselves is that they are champions protecting “religious freedom” from the supposed oppressions of a secular humanist society. But that argument is increasingly being tested by, of all people, Satanists. Yes, people who claim to worship the demon that Christians believe runs hell are quickly learning how easy it is to show that the Christian right never had any intention of protecting “religious freedom”. Instead, time and time again, Satanists are showing that the conservative Christian definition of “religious freedom” doesn’t apply at all to faiths, like Satanism, that offend them. Faced with the demands of Satanists, the supposed religious freedom crusaders of the religious right turn right back into the theocrats they always were, interested only in having government endorsement of theirreligion and often eager to demand that the government stomp out religious practices that offend them.

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The latest dust-up involves a Satanic “black mass” conducted in a Civic Center in Oklahoma City. The Dakhma of Angra Mainyu Syndicate held a 2-3 hour ceremony that mocked the Catholic mass by stomping on bread and sexualizing the grape juice-in-lieu of wine, as well as praying to various demons.

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Father Jonathan Morris went on Fox News Sunday to demand that Oklahoma City officials shut down the black mass. After paying lip service to the idea that Satanists have a “political right” to worship, the fact that some people in the community oppose it should be considered reason enough to shut it down. “When you have a group that does this, not just because they want to do their own little worship, but 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!’”, he added, as if it’s the fault of Satanists if people assault them and not the fault of people doing the assaulting.
Yeah, this is what the late Harry Kalven called the "reflexive disorder" in his excellent book A Worthy Tradition: Freedom of Speech in America; it's also known by his coinage as the heckler's veto. The basic idea is that controversial speech is not entitled to protection, because people will react to it angrily, and commit disorderly acts to silence the offensive speaker. Thanks to Justice Douglas's opinion for the Supreme Court in Terminiello v. Chicago (1949), not a basis for censorship. As Justice Douglas explained:
Accordingly a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea.. . . . There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view. For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups.

The ordinance as construed by the trial court seriously invaded this province. It permitted conviction of petitioner if his speech stirred people to anger, invited public dispute, or brought about a condition of unrest. A conviction resting on any of those grounds may not stand.
So, Fr. Morris is in error, and his analogies fail.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, as Marcotte writes:
Christians put a monument to the Ten Commandments up at the Oklahoma Statehouse, declaring their right to do so as one of religious freedom. The Satanic Temple, run out of New York City, responded by demanding the same religious freedom to put up a monument to the demon Baphomet.

The proposed monument is a hoot: Baphomet sitting on a throne while two children gaze adoringly at his goatly visage. The point of the stunt, however, is quite serious, to expose the hypocrisy of Christian conservatives who want to justify government endorsement of religion under the guise of “religious freedom”. Lucien Greaves of the Temple told Vice, “Constitutional law is quite clear on this issue: The state can’t discriminate against viewpoints. If they’ve opened the door for one, they’ve opened it for all.” To turn down the Satanists is to admit that the Christian right didn’t care for religious freedom at all, but simply wants government to push their religion while suppressing others who disagree.
Leaving Marcotte's amusement aside, for the moment, the underlying point is sound; if one religion best to place a monument, how can the government treat another religion less favorably without violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion")?

Marcotte gives a third example:
he Satanic Temple is pulling a similar stunt in Florida, to protest the Orange County Public Schools, which allowed the World Changers of Florida to pass out Bibles and religious pamphlets on campus. An atheist group already managed to get its protest in by getting similar permission to pass out atheist materials, putting the district in a situation where they either had to let them do it or risk a lawsuit. But the Satanist groups are making the situation hilariously surreal by asking to distribute The Satanic Children’s BIG BOOK of Activities, a coloring book with games that explain the ins and outs of Satanic rituals, as well as showing kids how to draw a pentagram.

As with the Oklahoma case, Greaves explains that it’s a matter of simple fairness, because “if a public school board is going to allow religious pamphlets and full Bibles to be distributed to students — as is the case in Orange County, Florida — we think the responsible thing to do is to ensure that these students are given access to a variety of differing religious opinions.”
Marcotte aptly cites Supreme Court's decision in Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District (1993), which bars discrimination between religious and non-religious speakers or between various religious groups once permission to use school facilities is afforded. In another, more recent, case out of New York, Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014), the Court found that the Town could open the legislative session with prayer, as long as it had policy of non-discrimination between religions--although the Town did not have to affirmatively seek out diverse prayer leaders.

It's a lesson in "be careful what you wish for," because, unless we are willing to have those whose speech morally offends us the same privileges granted one's own faith, we have violated the rule of neutrality and equal access. In other words, in these examples, the satanists are, constitutionally speaking, on the side of the angels.

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