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.
Oh yeah, and it all has the side benefit of exposing the Christian right as a humorless movement that struggles to tell the difference between reality and satire. But that’s just a bonus for observers.
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.
Sadly, the whole thing, held by convicted sex offender Adam Daniels, was basically a failure as satirical performance art, as the group conducting it seems to take themselves way, way too seriously. (Because of this, other Satanist groups with better senses of humor have distanced themselves.) But despite being an utter failure on that front, it still managed to demonstrate the screaming hypocrisy of Christian conservatives who claim to stand for religious freedom.
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.
“But what if I want to go and desecrate a Koran out in front of my church?” complained Morris. “What if I want to speak pro-Nazi stuff right in front of my church and get people all fired up on a public sidewalk?” In fact, both of those would actually be completely allowed under the First Amendment. Christian conservatives are constantly floating the fear that Christian pastors will be thrown in jail for preaching hate against gay people, but in fact, this doesn’t happen precisely because of the same freedoms that allow a bunch of Satanists to stomp on some bread and say they are against Jesus. By flailing around like this, Father Jonathan Morris showed how much the Christian right wants to have it both ways: Demand broad religious rights for themselves while demanding state oppression when others want the exact same rights.
Oklahoma is the home of another stunt by much-funnier Satanists who have figured out how to expose this particular Christian right hypocrisy. 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.
The 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.”
Ian Millhiser at Think Progress concurs, pointing out that in Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, the Supreme Court decided that churches could show religious films on school property so long as they didn’t turn around and discriminate against other religions who want the same rights. “Under the Constitution, what’s good for an evangelical church is also good for the Satanic Temple,” Millhiser concludes.
For years now, the Christian right has been able to push government endorsement of religion by claiming that they aren’t asking for specialrights to use school grounds, statehouse lawns and civic centers for their religious agenda. The only way to know for sure is to put them in a situation where they extend the same privileges they want for themselves to people who they not only hate, but fear: Satanists. So far, they’re failing the test.