In a significant development, the Satanic Temple has been recognized by the IRS as a church. The decision has sparked a debate as to what constitutes a church. For too long, religions have claimed a privileged place in society, without having to really justify why they should be given preferential treatment. The Satanic Temple has been steadily contesting that claim by logical extension, that there is no way to draw a clear line that separates those institutions that are traditionally recognized as religions from other groups that share broadly similar characteristics.
In an interview, [Satanic temple spokesperson Lucien] Greaves described submitting samples of literature, rituals, and other paperwork to demonstrate that TST possesses characteristics that the IRS associates with a “church.” Robert Warren of The Catholic University of America argued the IRS made the wrong decision because TST does not believe in God or a literal Satan. But supernatural belief is nowhere among the characteristics listed by the IRS. Of the characteristics the IRS does list, TST meets nearly all of them. Even the attribute of “Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young,” was arguably met by TST’s After School Satan Club. All the attention that TST has received in the media made it much easier to make its case to the IRS.
However, the ability to accept tax-deductible donations will not give TST the same financial resources as its conservative Christian opponents. In an interview, Greaves said he was still uncertain how tax-exempt status will affect the organization’s finances. The real reason to seek tax-exempt status is that this presents the best possible evidence that TST is a “real religion” rather than “trolls,” political satire, or—in LifeSiteNews’s terms—an “anti-religion.”
Proving sincerity has been a key issue in most of TST’s legal challenges. When TST sued the state of Arkansas in 2018, attorneys representing Secretary of State Mark Martin filed a response alleging that TST were “trolling pranksters” and “beneath the dignity of this Court.” They even speculated, “[I]t is entirely plausible that the proposed intervenors intend to use their involvement in the action before this Court as part of their mockumentary.” With the backing of the IRS, it will be much harder to cast doubts on TST’s sincerity, at least in a legal context.
This shift from illicit to licit status is the reason TST’s opponents have already vowed to lobby the IRS to reverse the decision: Tax-exempt status signals that the government sees TST as a “really real” religion entitled to all the same rights as Christianity. While TST is not the first Satanic organization to obtain this status, it is the first group that clearly intends to deploy this status in legal challenges. TST’s demands for equal treatment under the law are going to be much harder to dismiss from here on out
It will be much harder for religious legislators to now argue that things like the Ten Commandments should be displayed in public places while disallowing statues of Baphomet.