Religious freedom is for everyone. Period. Full stop. Your religious views don’t have to be popular. They don’t have to be “mainstream” or “orthodox.” They don’t have to fit someone else’s definition of “normal.”
You can worship one god, five gods, 20 gods or no gods. You can worship the sun. You can worship the spirit of nature. You can refrain from worshipping at all.
You can also worship the devil.
Some people seem to be having trouble with this concept lately. Recently, members of the Satanic Temple gathered in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a conference. A few community residents were bothered by this and marched outside with signs reading, “Satan Has No Rights.”
Charlie Kirk, who heads a conservative political group called Turning Point USA, tweeted, “Satan Conferences should not be protected by the First Amendment. Satan Worship is not what the Founders had in mind when they referenced the ‘fruits of liberty.’”
This same sentiment reared its head two months ago in Springfield, Ill., where Temple members erected a display of a baby version of Baphomet, a deity who has the head of a goat. State officials allow a variety of religious displays in the Capitol rotunda every December, and Temple members joined in. They were simply doing the same thing Christian organizations have done for years – putting up a symbol on their own time with their own dime in a forum that’s open to all points of view.
Nevertheless, Catholic Bishop Thomas Paprocki argued that the Temple’s display should not have been allowed because Satanism “should have no place in this Capitol or any other place.”
As it turns out, members of the Satanic Temple don’t worship Satan. Most of them probably don’t even believe in Satan. Dex Desjardin, a Temple official, told KPNX-TV in Phoenix, “Satan is a metaphor for personal liberation, the pursuit of knowledge and rebellion against arbitrary authority – not a literal deity in which we believe or worship.”
But even if the members did literally worship Satan, it would still be protected activity under the First Amendment, as long as the congregants do what all other religious groups must do: abide by our laws, don’t engage in violence and don’t force others to live by their beliefs.
The First Amendment doesn’t contain any asterisks. It guarantees the “free exercise” of religion; it doesn’t go on to say, “as long as it’s Christian,” “unless the majority doesn’t like it” or “unless some people think it’s weird.”
People like Kirk love to pop off about the Founders. They should try reading their actual words. Thomas Jefferson, for example, once reflected that the religious freedom law he wrote for Virginia, which scholars agree inspired the First Amendment, was so broad it included “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”
The Christian nationalists’ assertion is basically, “Because we don’t like your religion, you should have no rights.” That is plain, old-fashioned bigotry. Such intolerance is at home in the cramped worldview of Christian nationalism, but, thankfully, it finds no safe harbor in our Constitution.