Satanic Temple says bid to erect devilish monument on Capitol lawn is way to challenge intertwining of church and state
Originally published on Al Jazeera America – May 2, 2014
For the Rolling Stones in the late 1960s, Satan was “a man of wealth and taste,” as he introduced himself in the iconic classic rock hit “Sympathy for the Devil.”
An organization called the Satanic Temple aims to summon another image of the devil for Oklahoma — a state currently embroiled in a battle with civil liberties advocates over a monument to the Ten Commandments on the state Capitol lawn. Some say such a symbol excludes Americans who don’t identify with Judaism or Christianity.
Photos provided by the Satanic Temple unveiled the group’s monument, which it wants placed on Oklahoma’s Capitol lawn in the name of fairness. It features Baphomet — a creature with the head of a ram and body of a man — accompanied by two gleeful-looking children.
The group plans to have the finished product cast in bronze, Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves told Al Jazeera.
That’s the image that the organization — which has used various publicity stunts to oppose what it calls Judeo-Christian dominance of U.S. government and society — wants to place on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Legislature.
Oklahoma’s Capitol Preservation Commission has prevented the Satanic Temple from erecting its monument while litigation by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is pending against the Ten Commandments monument. Various state legislators did not comment about the matter to Al Jazeera.
The ACLU launched its case in 2012 when Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, helped — through legislation and with $10,000 of his own money — install the controversial Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol lawn. Ritze did not respond to an interview request from Al Jazeera by time of publication.
Henderson said that the ACLU’s case could last well into 2015 and will likely reach the state’s Supreme Court.
But Greaves told Al Jazeera on Friday that efforts to bring Satan to Oklahoma City’s legislature will continue regardless.
Asked if that meant the organization would bring its monument to the legislature without the state’s permission, he said, “No, that’d be a waste of money.” Satanic Temple plans to continue building the monument and to lobby state authorities for its placement beside its Judeo-Christian counterpart.
The local ACLU opposes Satanic Temple’s bid on some counts.
“Their basis for saying we have right to have this on the Capitol lawn is inconsistent with our case. The state shouldn’t have a religious monument at all,” said Brady Henderson, the organization’s legal director.
Greaves said the monument aims only to match the Ten Commandments monument’s testament to Judaism and Christianity.
“In Oklahoma, some say the Ten Commandments have unique American legal value, that it’s the foundational document on which our laws are based. It doesn’t take too much intellectualizing to argue against that. You’ve never seen the Ten Commandments codified into state law because they are against the Constitution,” Greaves said, arguing that the commandment “Thou shalt have no gods before me” is an attack on other spiritual beliefs.
“The whole satanic construct is very much a part of our [American] history and isn’t one to be ignored,” he said.
“We have to remember the people in witch hunts and who have fallen to mob intolerance,” Greaves said, adding that many people throughout U.S. history have been accused of devil worship.
“Native Americans have been accused of devil worship,” he said. “We have had the witch hunts. Slavers accused slaves of it.”
Greaves said that Satanic Temple would stop its bid to place its monument on the Capitol lawn if the Ten Commandments monument were removed as well.
Henderson said that in light of that promise, he agrees with Greaves.
“That makes perfect sense,” Henderson said, “My impression of what they’re doing is they are saying, ‘Hey, if you have one religious view out there, you should represent others.’ The state can represent multiple religious views or none at all.”
The ACLU supports the latter option, Henderson said.
Greaves has said that the Satanic Temple’s monument should be seen as a testament the tradition of the literary Satan portrayed by John Milton in “Paradise Lost.” He said that character symbolized “rebellion against arbitrary authority.”
Greaves — also known by his legal name, Doug Mesner — was mentioned last year in a Vice magazine article, which revealed that the formation of the Satanic Temple was part of a bid to use public stunts to challenge conservative Christian groups. A documentary was in the works, but Greaves said it has been scrapped.
“This is not a finite project for a film. This isn’t for a documentary now. Now it’s not even something we’re working on. We are legally incorporated now,” Greaves said. He added that the organization chose not to apply for religious designation out of a belief that all U.S. entities should pay taxes and “because we are against churches’ having government-approved status.”