Satanic Temple recognized by the IRS as a church


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.

Comments

  1. consciousness razor says

    Churches shouldn’t be tax-exempt. The Satanist Temple goes on the list of churches to be taxed. That’s what I take away from this story.
    The “charity” that this organization offers to the public is … what? Among other things (perhaps), it involves fighting legal battles that such organizations shouldn’t pay taxes. That’s not good for the public, although it does benefit TST.
    A secular non-profit can make the opposite legal case, and that would actually do some good for the public. Organizations like that probably should have 501(c)(3) status, but even if they weren’t we should be rooting for them and not their opponents.
    It’s completely bizarre that we would leave it to the IRS of all things to determine what “real religion” is, as if they were in any way equipped to deal with that question. It just sounds like a bad joke, from a European who wants to mock us ridiculous Americans. But it’s true. You can’t make this shit up.

  2. Mano Singham says

    consciousness razor,

    I think the Satanic Temple would completely agree with you that churches should not be tax-exempt. But the US doggedly continues to do so and the ST is trying to show how far this can lead. Attempts by secular organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation to challenge the tax-exempt status of religious institutions have failed so far.

    As for the IRS being the arbiter, that is a result of the fact that in the US there is no established church nor any governmental body to oversee religious affairs as there is in so many other countries. This leaves the IRS as the only body that has any role on this question.

    Being recognized as a religion gives the ST legal standing to challenge the efforts by religious people and organizations to create special privileges for themselves. They cannot be dismissed as mere pranksters or trolls or as not being serious.

  3. Holms says

    #1
    It’s just another avenue of attack against religious privilege. There are the organisations that sue for infringements against the rights of the non-religious, or religions overstepping their restrictions… and then there is this, which is to say to christians “if you get to do this shit, then so do we.” The strategy being to horrify christians into reigning in the excesses of religion purely because Satanists are benefiting from them.

  4. consciousness razor says

    Mano:

    I think the Satanic Temple would completely agree with you that churches should not be tax-exempt.

    No, if they agreed with me, they would not have fought to be a 501(c)(3) non-profit on the basis of being a religion, because that is a terrible reason.
    They could of course do it like other lots of non-religious organizations, by showing their focus is on doing charitable work, if they could support a claim like that, as lots of other non-religious organizations do.

    But the US doggedly continues to do so and the ST is trying to show how far this can lead.

    We’ve seen how far it can lead. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than any mega-church. Or the RCC I grew up with, which isn’t usually counted as “mega-“.
    The Satanic Temple isn’t the worst (unless they have tons of skeletons in the closet). They’re not as bad as it gets, and they obviously won’t say that they are as bad as it gets. Because that would be a stupid thing for them to say.
    What you presumably mean is that TST being an IRS-approved church will upset some devout Christians. Their heads will explode, and we’re all supposed to jump for joy about it. But that’s not a good standard to use, to show how bad it really gets. That’s just a Christian persecution complex talking to itself. For them to see how bad it really is, they need to look into the mirror.

    As for the IRS being the arbiter, that is a result of the fact that in the US there is no established church nor any governmental body to oversee religious affairs as there is in so many other countries. This leaves the IRS as the only body that has any role on this question.

    This isn’t a question for them to answer. They may be able to determine whether something is a legitimate charitable organization, which does something for the public good. Whether or not it’s “a religion” should never have into that evaluation, but of course it has. So we should be trying to end that practice, not devising ever more expansive versions of it.
    Holms:

    The strategy being to horrify christians into reigning in the excesses of religion purely because Satanists are benefiting from them.

    Imagine a black abolitionist enslaving a white person, in order to horrify the white people about the “excesses” of their ways. Do you believe that strategy could have worked? Is that a coherent strategy for an abolitionist to employ, all the way to the very end?

  5. file thirteen says

    @consciousness razor

    For them to see how bad it really is, they need to look into the mirror.

    I don’t think the aim is to get the extremists to moderate their behaviour. Instead it’s to bring the moderate christians onside, by drawing attention to how the current system is flawed and open to abuse. Something like this is needed to draw christians’ attention to the issue in a context other than “christians being told off… again”, the latter which is spun as “persecution” of their religion (“as usual”) and ignored before they even stop to think about it.

    Imagine a black abolitionist enslaving a white person…

    Terrible analogy. You haven’t convinced me TST is doing any harm yet, let alone severe harm. A better one is Rosa Parks refusing to yield her seat on the bus to a white person. If they allow partisan speeches to religions and partisan monuments to them, and not tax the churches, why then they can just do the same for TST.

    Untenable to you? (not you personally cr, figuratively speaking) Then after the courts enforce the law, you may be inspired to realise that such laws are bad laws, eg. having prayers at government functions, because fairness will dictate that eventually you too are forced to listen to prayers you really don’t want to hear.

    If it can help the religious wise up, I am thoroughly in favour of it.

  6. consciousness razor says

    Terrible analogy. You haven’t convinced me TST is doing any harm yet, let alone severe harm.

    Well, you’re right that it’s a terrible analogy in that respect. However, it’s not like we should approve of 501(c)(3) status for an organization on the grounds that it’s not doing severe harm. That sets a very low bar, about as low as it can be; but what’s needed to justify the tax-exemption is something positive that the organization does. (It’s really much more detailed, but I won’t go into all of that here.)

    If it can help the religious wise up, I am thoroughly in favour of it.

    That seems like wishful thinking to me. Like the quote in the OP said, “the ability to accept tax-deductible donations will not give TST the same financial resources as its conservative Christian opponents.” This is a fight Christians can probably win over the long run, if they wanted to. It’s not just money; they’ve got the majority and “tradition” on their side. TST is at best a small and easy target.
    But do they really want to end it? If any of them are remotely sensible (particularly pastors, lawyers, and so forth, who are making the decisions), they wouldn’t see TST as a threat, much less a serious one. They may even be happy to make relatively minor concessions in isolated cases, because they can effectively draw it out forever, collecting more and more donations from their followers who actually worry about absurdities like satanism.
    I think a lot of the leadership wants to keep the scam going as long as possible, because unlike their followers they’re not so sincere. TST is now joining the “fun,” which doesn’t actually hurt them at all. That doesn’t seem like a reason to wise up, and they don’t seem like they’re in any hurry to do so. It seems like a reason to laugh all the way to bank, week after week, year after year. They can put on a big show for their donors and act belligerent about it, as they do about tons of other issues, while doing very little to stop it.
    It’s not all that different from the military-industrial complex. They could obliterate most countries, if they wanted to. But why do that when they can rake in consistent profits for the rest of their lives and pass it off to the next generation and the one after that? You don’t really pose a threat to such people, not on the battlefield itself — you’re not even a target, so much as an opportunity to scrape up more profits from the profit-making system they developed for themselves (which just happens to involve bombs, or Jesuses, or whatever it may be).

  7. Robert, not Bob says

    I see the point, but I doubt it’ll work. The current courts will happily rule that denying the Satanic Temple the same privileges that Christian churches get is constitutional, and that will be that.

  8. file thirteen says

    I think a lot of the leadership wants to keep the scam going as long as possible

    Absolutely, but it’s not the leadership that’s being targeted here, it’s the average joe who hates satanism and may just think “I didn’t care when it was only the churches that were benefiting, but damned ( 😉 ) if I’ll see the satanists profit.” And I don’t expect them to reform the churches either, just indicate that the current laws aren’t working for them. Enough of a groundswell and change does happen.

    I said I don’t expect extremists to moderate their behaviour in my last message, but I should have said extremists and anyone with monetary interest in the status quo. This does not include ordinary christians -- they’re victims of the scam if anything.

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