I know what you’re thinking, and I was surprised to hear it too. The Satanic Temple, a non-theistic religion founded by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry in 2013, is currently engaged in an abortion rights case in the Missouri Supreme Court. For those unfamiliar or confused by a “non-theistic” religion, The Satanic Temple’s philosophy is one based on empathy, as well as secular and scientific principles, not divine beings. They have Seven Core Tenets endorsing reason, kindness, individuality, responsibility and critical thinking. Members don’t believe in or worship Satan as a literal supernatural being, but rather adopt a literary Satan, represented in books like Revolt of the Angels and Paradise Lost, as a symbol of individuality, independent thinking and rebellion against dogma.
The abortion case began in May 2015 when one of the members of the Temple, identified by the pseudonym “Mary Doe” in court documents, sought an abortion from the Planned Parenthood clinic of Central West End, St. Louis. However, because of a 2014 statute, Doe had to go through a lengthy “informed consent” process, involving, among other things, being given a pamphlet stating that life begins at conception. As if that weren’t enough, a woman seeking an abortion then must wait 72 hours after this informative session before coming back for an abortion if she still wants one, a period tied for the longest such waiting period in the country.
Doe objected to this waiting period because, as a member of The Satanic Temple, it violated her beliefs. For clarification, I got in touch with Jex Blackmore, a national spokesperson for the Temple, who informed me that the statute violated two of the Core Tenets. First, it went against the principle that one’s body is inviolable, and subject only to said person’s will. Because Doe had already made up her mind, she believed that the mandatory waiting period infringed on her personal freedom. The other Tenet is that one’s beliefs should be drawn from the best scientific understanding of the world. The state’s mandate that she based her decision in part on a scientifically unsound statement violates this Tenet— and that doesn’t even cover the potential violations of the Establishment Clause. According to Blackmore, Missouri will have to either Grant members of the Temple an exemption from the waiting period under its Religious Freedom Restoration Act or affirm that it’s enforcing a Christian theocratic law.
While the case has yet to truly begin— the Supreme Court is deciding whether the case even has standing— its importance cannot be underestimated. This is a law explicitly endorsing a religious worldview on the general population and legislates out a woman’s right to choose for herself while shaming her for her decisions.
“[The laws are] designed to prey upon the conscience and fears of pregnant women,” said Albion Political Science Chair William Rose in an interview. And I have to agree. However, reproductive rights are only a symptom of a larger problem.
We’re living in an America that is profoundly afraid, confused and troubled. And in such times, the easiest group to exploit is the religious faction with a persecution complex. The Evangelical right has a strong presence in the White House thanks to Vice President Pence, and President Trump has pandered to them in no small part. It makes sense, of course, seeing how 81 percent of Evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. Stephen K. Bannon, Breitbart-chairman-turned-chief-strategist-turned-Breitbart-chairman-again, has a long and storied history as a propagandist, and his most recent “documentary” Torchbearer stokes fundamentalist and Evangelical fears and conspiracy theories, linking Nazis to atheism and evolution, and that secular governments always become immoral dictatorships which commit genocide. For more on that, see The Bible Reloaded’s breakdown of the movie (Content Warning: Foul Language. Headphones recommended).
In February, President Trump signed an executive order to weaken enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 act which prevents churches and other religious organizations from keeping their tax-exempt status when they endorse political candidates. Some commentators stated that this move was mostly symbolic, but that symbol is still fundamentally troubling. This move tells the Evangelical base, “Your beliefs that America is a Christian nation, and that everyone should be governed by your particular interpretation of Christianity, are valid, and I’m the guy who will help you get the theocracy you want.”
More recently, Trump and Bannon both gave speeches at the Values Voters’ Summit in October, with Trump pulling out the old “America is a Christian Nation” and Bannon declaring “war against the GOP establishment.” Roy Moore, if not taken down by the current sexual misconduct scandal, might take one of Alabama’s seats in the U.S. Senate. We’re talking about the guy who got fired from his position as a judge twice for placing laws of God above the laws of the country, and who believed Keith Ellison’s religion made him ineligible for office.
The Satanic Temple’s lawsuits and initiatives— to end corporal punishment, to institute alternatives to Christian after-school programs, to fight religious monuments on government property— are important because they represent the spirit of American democracy in truth. They are not attempting to enforce their worldview on others; they are trying to maintain the separation of Church and State when that portion of our Constitution is in ever-greater peril. Unlike Trump, who proclaims that his self-serving measure is a step forward for religious freedom, the Satanic Temple cares that people are free to worship, or not worship, without being threatened by the moral judgments of self-righteous evangelicals. They want everyone’s religious freedom, not just their own. So hail (literary) Satan, everyone, and stand up for your rights.
Photo via The Satanic Temple.