(09 Dec 2014) Last week, Florida’s Department of Management Services (DMS) resigned itself begrudgingly to approval of The Satanic Temple’s (TST) request to place a holiday display in the State’s Capitol Rotunda. It was the end of a year-long battle which, as spokesperson for and co-founder of The Satanic Temple, I explained to Jezebel’s Anna Merlan, began with the DMS’s refusal to host us one December ago:
The display that has been approved this year is exactly the same display that was rejected as “grossly offensive” last year. Florida’s Department of Management Services declined to comment as to what, exactly, they judged to be “grossly offensive”, and we were left to conclude that we were being subjected to blatant viewpoint discrimination. This time around we arrived with a cadre of lawyers working with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State [AU]. This apparently rendered our homemade holiday display more palatable to the DMS’s tender sensibilities. In any case, the correct decision was finally made, and we appreciate the opportunity to publicly wish a happy holiday season to all. Nobody holds a monopoly upon the season’s celebratory spirit, and we hope that our display, among the various others, will contribute to a general and growing understanding of plurality. If there is fun to be had, we’ll have it — and we wish the same for all, regardless of religious affiliation, or lack thereof.
The sheer offensive audacity of our holiday season well-wishing predictably proved altogether too much for broadcast media’s professional outrage-mongers. Glenn Beck took to the air to ominously warn that our no-budget diorama — constructed with care from basic art supplies by TST members in Florida — is a harbinger that “destruction is coming our way”. Beck’s co-host, Pat Gray — unshaven, unkempt, and clearly confused — seemed unable to collect a coherent thought to justify his nonetheless-strongly-held opinion that our display should have been rejected outright. “when Satanists come to you and say ‘well, we want equal time,’ you tell them ‘tough, you’re not getting it!'”
Even Glenn Beck sensed a need for qualification. “Why, Pat?,” he prodded.
“Because you don’t deserve it!”
Legal research would surely be too much to ask of our broadcast bloviators. Nonetheless, a basic Google search could have at least guided them to the works of actual journalists who had taken the time to understand TST’s request, the arguments put forward by our legal counsel from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), and the reasons Florida wasn’t at liberty to deny the Satanic holiday display offering to begin with. About a week before the DMS’s approval, Mark Joseph Stern, writing for Slate.com, meticulously laid out the case in terms that even Glenn Beck might eventually grasp with enough effort. Laying out a series of precedent cases — all of which were fought in conservative-driven battles seemingly assumed to expand privileges for the exclusive benefit of Christian proselytizers — Stern follows a legal timeline of the U.S. Church/State separation break-down. He concludes:
Under this set of conservative precedents, the fiercely Republican state government in Florida has essentially no legal argument against the Satanic Temple—or the Pastafarians, or any other professedly religious group that wants to tout its faith with a display in the state capitol. (In our post–Hobby Lobby legal landscape, even secular humanism is considered a religion, because secular humanists say it is.) The Supreme Court was supposed to guard the wall of separation between church and state. Instead, reactionary justices helped to tear it down.
The gist here, for those a bit slow to catch on, is that religious liberty is dependent on Government neutrality. No government body is free to grant preference for one religion over another, and once the public square has been opened to one religion, it is available to all. This basic, grade-school-level Civics lesson elludes not only our theatrically thick-headed pundits, but apparently soared well over the head of former Republican presidential primary candidate Herman Cain, who eloquently expressed his disgust on Facebook. “These people are such morons,” he stated in a status update, “I’m referring, of course, to both The Satanic Temple and the Florida State Government”.
Setting any tedious legalistic constitutional arguments aside, Cain opted to make his case in the form of an illustrated mathematical proof. An image of a map of Florida, followed by a plus sign, followed by an image of our holiday display, equals (an image of) a group of clowns.
Cain links to an article titled, ‘Satanists: The Internet Trolls of Religion’, posted by one Robert Laurie on Cain’s own website. Laurie, like Beck, attempts to make the case that The Satanic Temple doesn’t “deserve” representation. However, despite the benefit of actually performing a cursory search for background material, Laurie, too, fails to deliver anything transcending infantile foot-stamping.
They think they’re quite clever and that they’re making a point beyond “we’re a bunch of arrogant asshats,” but really, they aren’t.
It’s entirely unclear why the phrase “we’re a bunch of arrogant asshats” is in quotes, as it doesn’t appear in any of TST’s own written materials, and no citation is provided. Laurie continues on to make the argument that TST doesn’t represent an actual religion, failing to define what religion is, and failing to explain why only a religious organization should be able to wish the public happy holidays to begin with.
Laurie, feeling that religion is only religion when it demands subservience, finds himself affronted that The Satanic Temple “don’t really worship anything”. Then, Laurie finds a damning quote directly from our website:
It is the position of The Satanic Temple that religion can, and should, be divorced from superstition. As such, we do not promote a belief in a personal Satan. To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions. The Satanist should actively work to hone critical thinking and exercise reasonable agnosticism in all things. Our beliefs must be malleable to the best current scientific understandings of the material world — never the reverse.
Somehow, Laurie read all this and derived a rather puzzling translation, completely unrelated by any rational stretch: “In other words, they’re the internet trolls of the religious world.”
Eventually, Laurie seems to at least recognize that he’s failed to make any case against our holiday display at all, opting instead to make the case that a case doesn’t need to be made:
If you feel like making an actual argument about this, the better point is that Government is run by a bunch of imbeciles. This is particularly true in Florida, where the state has decided that the satanists non-belief deserves equal time – as does a mariachi band and stack of beer cans that have been fashioned into a “Festivus pole” from the sitcom “Seinfeld.”
The Daily Beast ran a rather confused piece that seems to oscillate between trying to minimize any claims to success TST might have, while also attempting to use the occasion to hail a crushing defeat against Christian Conservatives. “So, the display—which has the aesthetic sophistication of a middle school science project—will go up for week. It’s not quite a reversal of Hobby Lobby, but I guess it’s something.”
The Daily Beast piece seems to use an earlier Slate.com article as its sole source, and fails when it goes beyond what Slate reported. According to The Daily Beast, “By using explicit Biblical imagery and Biblical texts, the Satanic Temple—actually one of many Satanic religious organizations […] playing this game—made it harder to claim the display wasn’t really religious.”
Leaving aside the question of whether or not it’s true that only religious organizations may apply to place a holiday display in the Capitol Rotunda, the assertion that TST is but “one of many Satanic religious organizations playing this game” is puzzling. If by “this game” we’re talking about Satanic efforts to promote plurality by fighting for representation wherever religion is allowed in the public square, the comment is flatly false. The Satanic Temple is the only Satanic Religious organization “playing this game,” and we’re fighting similar, and larger, battles across the nation. (At this point, I feel it my duty to direct readers who might be interested to our legal fund.)
Breitbart.com, an anti-intellectual repository of hysterical, unlettered conservative drivel, caught wind of The Daily Beast piece and saw in it “an article whose every paragraph drips with sneering condescension towards the “Religious Right,”” an article which shamelessly “congratulates clever Satanists for sticking it to the “right-wing ‘religious liberty’ movement” by getting their own holiday display in the Florida Capitol rotunda, complete with an angel (presumably Lucifer) getting his ass kicked out of Heaven and “falling from the sky in flames, surrounded by Biblical verses.””
The Breitbart article, hilariously titled ‘Satanist shock troops enter the War on Christmas’ decries the display as “cultural vandalism”, “meaningless and offensive crap”, while dissonantly arguing that TST are “over-estimating how offended Christians are likely to become over such a display, to the extent they give it a second thought at all.”
Remarkably, the Breitbart article directly embraces it own hypocrisy, outlining the conservative desire to have it both ways (in regards to civil liberties for themselves alone), with no sense of irony or introspection:
[…]our political rulers portray themselves as high priests of that general will, divining what the majority really wants (or what’s good for them, even if they don’t realize it) and whipping dissenters into line. Somehow all that stuff about majority rule and general will disappears when it comes to simple and tasteful Christmas displays, which most Americans either actively support, or have no serious objection to. Sending an army of regulators and tax enforcers into every corner of people’s lives, and scoffing at their claims of individual conscience, is peachy keen, but putting a nativity display in a state capitol building is an intolerable act of dogmatic imperialism.
Clearly, “majority rules” is perfectly okay, when it’s convenient. An unregulated marketplace of ideas is essential, until the sensibilities of Breitbart readers are affronted by a speech-too-free.
Even in the midst of all this sputtering and insensible foolish uproar, one news report stands out as the least responsible and most idiotic of them all. Tucker Carlson, on Fox News Network’s Fox & Friends, took the liberty of assuming his way through an entire report, making no effort to find actual facts. With a furrowed look of grave concern, Carlson asked, “So I’m assuming that there aren’t a ton of Satanists in Tallahassee. I’m assuming there really aren’t really any at all. And this is purely an attempt to stick a finger in the eye of Christians in Florida. Is that correct?”
To be clear, Fox & Friends never reached out to The Satanic Temple for comment. We were never offered any opportunity to correct their assumptions, or engage in debate. So who was Carlson directing his question to? Senselessly, he decided to ask a “Pastor of Bible Based Church”, Darrick D. McGhee, of Florida, who had no reservations about providing his unqualified answers regarding TST’s “true” motives. “That would be correct, Tucker. It is definitely a ploy and a scheme and a mockery of those of us who are believers of Christ Jesus.”
Demonstrating no actual understanding of The Satanic Temple’s philosophy or tenets (easily found online), Carlson, and his inexplicable guest, seemingly pulled at random, carried on affirming each other’s assumptions with no attempt at an informed discussion.
“What would be your message to the Satanists, presuming there are any, behind this display? If we had them on the show right now, what would you say to them?” Carlson asked McGhee, again begging the question as to why, in fact, we weren’t ever approached to be on the show.
“What I would say to them is simply this,” McGhee said, “You can not spell Christmas without spelling Christ, and no matter what you do or how you do it, Jesus will always be the reason for the season.”
Of course, there are many ways to dismantle this drivel — whether one cares to explore Christmas’s Pagan roots, or investigate the Christian claims against Christmas that harken to the earlier Puritan’s ban upon the holiday — but the fact is, our display reads “Happy Holidays”, not “Merry Christmas”, and whether McGhee likes it or not, the holidays aren’t anybody’s sole property, just as government property can’t be co-opted by a single religious voice.
Degenerating further beyond ludicrous — given Carlson’s failure to make any attempt at dialogue with The Satanic Temple — he asks McGhee, “Do you think there’s a legitimate conversation to have with [the Satanists], or do you feel like they are just mocking your religion?”
McGhee’s response is truly absurd. Predictably, he pretends to know that we’re merely mocking his beliefs, but he then has the incredible audacity to bemoan the fact that The Satanic Temple never reached out to him for a dialogue. A dialogue about what? For what purpose? And who in the fuck Darrick D. McGhee anyway? How were we to know that he would take it upon himself to falsely represent The Satanic Temple’s intentions? Clearly the burden was on him to reach out to us, if there was to be a dialogue between us. As for Fox & Friends, there simply isn’t any justifying the fact they didn’t have the very bottom basic-level integrity to approach us for comment.
This, of course, is only the beginning. The display itself isn’t to reside in the rotunda till December 22, and we can be certain that a collective sobbing meltdown will take hold of Christianity’s self-appointed conservative crusaders during its week-long exposure. We can expect more perplexing ridicule of the display’s unpolished, homemade “middle school science project” feel, even as such criticisms render the mortal fear surrounding the display all the more ludicrous. We can have every confidence that unlettered buffoons like Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson will continue to question Satanism’s legitimacy as a religion, while failing still to define “religion”, or answer as to why only a religious organization should erect holiday displays. Without question, grossly under-qualified office holders, past and present, like Herman Cain, will openly flaunt their constitutional ignorance, placing blame, not on Florida’s decision to open the public square to displays with religious connotations to begin with, but upon Florida’s inevitable approval of The Satanic Temple’s display once they did. Pious and offended simpletons, like Darrick D. McGhee and Robert Laurie, will surely continue to attach their own assumed meanings and motives onto our holiday display — even as we’d clearly be no less justified in speculating that the true motives for a nativity in the Capitol Rotunda is to insult secularists who feel such displays have no place in the public square. We will certainly see more utter ignorance of basic democratic values exposed in the common insistence that Christianity represents a significant enough majority to justifiably exclude minority religious voices.
In this way, our “middle school science project” proves an amazing social experiment, laying bare the rotted core of American religio-political conservative hypocrisy.
Happy Holidays from The Satanic Temple!