A debate over religious symbols at the Oklahoma state capitol took an unusual turn recently when a group that worships Satan inadvertently released an image of a monument it would like to erect on government property.
Members of a group called the Satanic Temple mistakenly released images of its proposed monument at the Oklahoma state capitol, igniting a predictable furor among supporters of the state’s controversial Ten Commandments display.
Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the temple, told Religion News Service that the release was his error.
“I didn’t mean to reach out to the media until the commission had the formal submission,” Greaves said, adding that he’d accidentally sent an early draft of the temple’s proposal to the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission.
Draft or no, the images of a benevolent Baphomet, a goat-headed entity long affiliated with Satanism, have gone viral, much to the displeasure of the state’s conservative lawmakers.
“This is a faith-based nation and a faith-based state,” Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville) told the Tulsa World when the temple first announced its monument plans. “I think it is very offensive they would contemplate or even have this kind of conversation.”
Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman (R-Sapulpa) called the proposal “a joke” and Rep. Doug Cox (R-Grove) promised a legal battle to prevent the temple from erecting its monument.
The temple has consistently insisted no offense is meant by their proposal. On a webpage created to raise funds for the monument, they wrote that it’s intended to “complement and contrast” the state’s Ten Commandments display.
“A Satanic monument erected in contrast to a 10 Commandments monument will send a clear and distinct message to the world that pluralism is alive and well in the United States,” temple members said.
That doesn’t sound like a joke. In fact, it’s more constitutionally sound than the state’s rationale for erecting the Ten Commandments.
Opposition to the temple’s proposals seems to stem partially from the belief that Satanism isn’t actually a religion, and therefore isn’t entitled to a display at the state capitol. But the Satanic Temple repeatedly refers to Satanism as a religion in its own materials.
“The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people,” the temple says. Its website articulates a belief in a “Humanistic Satan,” a figure more literary construct than deity: “Satan stands as the ultimate icon for the selfless revolt against tyranny, free & rational inquiry, and the responsible pursuit of happiness.”
Regardless of whether Satanists actually assign a supernatural character to the devil (and there seems to be a division in the ranks on the subject), it’s evident that he’s part of an organized belief system. Baphomet, as a symbol of Satan and Satanist beliefs, has real significance for the temple’s members.
In the United States, we have no state religion; it’s not the business of the government to determine whether Satanist principles should be considered legitimate beliefs. If these belief are sincere and the people who follow them abide by the law, that’s all that matters. Satanism would have the same rights as any other religion. In fact, the state of Oklahoma agrees: it awarded a separate Satanist body tax exemption four years ago.
Now, the state legislature says it wants to place a moratorium on monument proposals. Legislators took this action after a Hindu group proposed erecting a statue of monkey god Lord Hanuman.
Legislators, however, have yet to offer a sound legal explanation for denying either Hindus or Satanists equal representation on capitol grounds.
If Oklahoma lawmakers are upset by recent developments, they need to look at the source: themselves. When the legislature made space for the Ten Commandments, they may have opened the door for other religious displays as well.
That was their conscious decision – unless they want to argue that devil made them do it – and they are responsible for everything that has come since. Perhaps they should have thought of that before they voted to install a list of religious commands at the seat of state government.