There are those in the US who want to privilege Christianity in American public life by demanding the right to have prayers and Bible readings in schools and at public governmental functions, and by erecting Christian religious symbols and monuments such as the Ten Commandments tablets and crosses and paintings in public spaces.
The problem for them is that the US constitution demands that the government give no religion pride of place. So one way to fight this process is that whenever Christians demand that their demands be accommodated, for other religions and non-believers to demand equal access. One problem with this counter-strategy is that atheists and other non-believers do not have symbols and prayers for which equal time can be asked. Those groups thus have to demand that no time be allocated for such religious activities and this has proven to be a hard challenge to sustain legally. While requiring government neutrality between religions has generally been upheld by the courts, neutrality between religion and non-religion has been on shakier legal ground.
Other mainline religions such as Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims would gain more traction by demanding equal time but members of those religions seem reluctant to get involved in these religion wars, given their precarious state of acceptance in the US. Groups like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster try to fill the void but their manifestly satirical nature and limited resources prevent them from having too much of an impact.
Enter the Satanists, who have become the unlikely vanguard in the fight. Unlike the Pastafarians, they cannot be dismissed as a purely parody religion. They do have symbols and rituals that give them all the trappings of a religion. And best of all, they seem perfectly willing to demand equal time for their religion whenever Christians try to muscle their way into the public square.
We saw that they were successful in getting the Ten Commandments monument removed from the Oklahoma state capital grounds by insisting that if that be allowed, their statue of Baphomet be also allowed. Then they demanded that if a high school football coach insisted on leading players in prayers on the field, then they too wanted the right to lead prayers. They did so amid protests. Meanwhile the football coach has been placed on leave for refusing to stop his praying despite being ordered to do so by the district. The Satanists have also challenged, on religious grounds, so-called ‘informed consent’ laws passed by anti-abortion legislators, saying that such laws violate their religion’s proscription against receiving ‘scientifically unfounded’ and ‘medically invalid’ information.
The Satanists have now offered protection to those feeling threatened by the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric following the recent attacks by ISIS..
Muslims in Minneapolis and San Jose, California, are receiving support from an unlikely ally: the Satanic Temple. The Minneapolis and San Jose chapters of the national organization, which describes itself as a group that “facilitates the communication and mobilization of politically aware Satanists, secularists and advocates for individual liberty,” posted to their website and Facebook pages offering to protect local Muslims who might be experiencing backlash after last Friday’s terror attacks.
“If there is anyone in the Minneapolis area who is Muslim and afraid to leave their home out of fear for some kind of backlash, don’t hesitate to reach out to us,” the Minneapolis chapter’s Facebook post read. “We would be glad to escort you where you need to go without advertising our presence — just big dudes walking you where you need to be. We would also happily accompany you so you can get some groceries.”
The Satanists seem to be ideally positioned to take on violations of church-state separation and it is to their credit that they are rising to that challenge.