The rationale against child abuse shouldn’t be obscure to any person of average faculty. Beating children is wrong. subjecting children to psychological torture is wrong. Neither should be tolerated, much less sanctioned. While there may be general agreement on these points, 19 states in the US still allow corporal punishment in schools, granting teachers immunity from prosecution for beatings occasionally brutal enough to leave injuries that would find any parent charged with a felony.
An increasing number of public schools nationwide allow the use of solitary confinement — “seclusion rooms” — and physical restraints. While all empirical data supports the conclusion that such treatment of children adversely impacts cognitive and behavioral development, proponents of these forms of abuse can often be found to shamelessly quote the archaic edict that to spare the rod is to spoil the child.
It is one case among many in which traditional values contradict modern sense.
If, at its core, the argument for corporal punishment is rooted in some religious-minded adherence to “traditional values” (and, again, there is no scientific support for its practice, and significant evidence of its long-term harm) then it is worth pointing out that there are no small numbers of individuals who do not subscribe to counter-productive rote customs. Indeed, for many, personal sovereignty is a deeply-held value that is horrifically violated by punitive beatings.
The Satanic Temple (an organization for which I act as official spokesperson) holds among its tenets that “The body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone”. As such, we have launched a campaign to offer an exemption against corporal punishment and solitary confinement to any student who agrees with our position. We have set up a website (www.protectchildrenproject.com) where students can register, whereupon The Satanic Temple will put the child’s school board on notice: To subject that student to abuse will thereafter be unconstitutional. We are claiming a religious exemption, under First Amendment protection, while also making clear that students need not identify as Satanists, nor are they required to join the Satanic Temple, in order to claim this exemption for themselves.
But if one is not a self-identified member of the religion whose tenets call for the exemption, how can that exemption be applied to them? What we are hoping to establish — and we feel sufficient legal precedent supports this conclusion — is that personal sovereignty is a “deeply held belief” shared by many, and such beliefs — constituting part of the core of an individual’s sense of morality and identity — should be considered with all of the deference afforded religion. The fact that The Satanic Temple is a religious organization in which the body’s inviolability is explicitly made fundamental puts us in a unique position to assert that this deeply held belief is indeed distinctly separate from any personal preference of mere convenience.
The United States has become so inured to the notion that “the” religious agenda is monolithically represented in traditionalist conservative politics alone, that few have bothered to consider exactly what religion is, or who is rightly a beneficiary of its legal privileges.
Colloquially, religion is generally agreed to belong to the supernaturalists. Religion’s domain embodies metaphysical moral precepts, prophecy, airy assertions of a non-material “beyond”, and the central authority of an omnipotent autocrat; a divine tyrant who typically requires regular ritualistic pledges of fealty in exchange for some measure of mercy from adverse circumstance and impending eternal torture. Common usage definitions of religion often insist upon a belief in a supernatural Creator, creators, or, at least, organized beliefs about the supernatural. Critical secularists and atheists decry “religion” as a toxic enemy of reason and free inquiry, the product and perpetrator of superstition. In fact, by common usage definitions, religion is usually indistinguishable from superstition.
Legal definitions, however, are cautiously vague. The first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .”, but fails to specify what exactly a religion is. While the Founding Fathers would often reference “service” to a “creator”, Thomas Jefferson, in his Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom (a bill important enough to the man that he had his authorship of it listed as one of three lifetime achievements commemorated upon his tombstone, the other two being his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and his founding of the University of Virginia) stated, “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.” Elaborating in his memoirs, Jefferson explained that in this statute “protection of opinion was meant to be universal”, and the document included “within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.“
The inclusion of “infidels” is curious, and it surely suggests that Jefferson conceived that no privilege should be granted to those who imagine they serve a creator over those who reject or deny the notion of a creator. Religious protection, in this case, is extended to include a diversity of “religious opinion”.
Therefore, if the line of separation between Church and State is to be breached with ostentatious displays of religion in the public square, it is infinitely better that a diversity of religions be represented than that one perspective be given the appearance of preference. This, at least, was our thinking when The Satanic Temple devised a proposal for a Satanic monument to be placed at the Oklahoma State Capitol which will complement and contrast the 10 Commandments monument already standing on those grounds. It is this monument proposal for which The Satanic Temple is currently best known. Like our Protect Children Project, the monument proposal makes a constitutional argument that is difficult to dismiss if religious plurality is to be taken seriously.
Naturally, the placement, in 2012, of a large stone slab engraved with the 10 Commandments on State Capitol grounds was seen, by the ACLU and most objective observers, as a constitutional violation. Oklahoma, however, in its questionable wisdom, argued that the monument could not be construed as a state endorsement of a particular religion, as it was privately donated by (incidentally) a state representative (and Baptist Deacon, Mike Ritze [R-Broken Arrow]). Further, it was argued that the 10 Commandments are a historical document and “an important component of the moral foundation of the laws and legal system of the United States of America and of the State of Oklahoma.”
OK House bill 1330, which in 2009 authorized the installation of the 10 Commandments monument, further stated, “The placement of this monument shall not be construed to mean that the State of Oklahoma favors any particular religion or denomination thereof over others, but rather will be placed on the Capitol grounds where there are numerous other monuments.”
Of course, the attempted connection between the 10 Commandments and the American Constitution is absurd. At no point in US history has Constitutional Law taken seriously commands such as “Thou Shalt Have No God Before Me” or “Thou Shalt Not Worship Graven Idols”. In fact, such commands are clearly contra-constitutional. It is also obviously incorrect to think that if it were not for the 10 Commandments, murder and theft would be legal in the United States. Thou shalt have no God before me, and Thou shall not worship graven idols are not legally binding edicts, nor are they moral. They are exclusive to the Abrahamic religious construct.
The United States was legally founded, unquestionably, as a religiously pluralistic nation. So what exactly is meant when it is argued that the 10 Commandments represents our American legal heritage? It seems to me that this claim takes a broad view of the development of law, paying general homage to juridical codification. That being the case, our Satanic monument can certainly be described in historical terms that are just as relevant — even more so, we would argue. Not only will the Satanic monument send a clear and distinct message that America respects plurality, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of speech — it will also stand as a historical marker commemorating the scapegoats, the demonized minorities and outcasts.
The medieval witch-hunts that first served to create the idea of Satanism as an alternative society have taught us, more than anything, the importance of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”, the importance of secular law, the concept of the accuser’s burden of proof… removed from concepts of supernatural or symbolic crimes. Today, we are rightly offended by the notion of blasphemy laws and divine fiats. These mistakes of the past, this trial and error, has shaped the legal system more explicitly than chiseled stones proclaiming the One True God, garnished with a few items of universal morality that are, by no means, unique to Christian practice.
For its part, The Satanic Temple is an atheistic religious organization, a position not uncommonly dismissed out-of-hand as paradoxical and senseless. However, we feel that religion can, and should, be disentangled from superstition. To us, religion serves best when recognized as a metaphorical narrative construct by which we contextualize our lives, works, and goals. Our religion provides us with a sense of identity, community, custom, and shared values. We bow to no God or gods, elevating revolt against arbitrary authority — defiance in the face of tyranny — to the highest of callings. Satan, to us, is symbolic of the ultimate revolutionary iconoclast, best exemplified by Milton and later literary romantics from William Blake to Anatole France.
The label “Satanist”, historically, has almost always been applied propagandistically and pejoratively to people — groups and individuals — who almost certainly had no relation to any type of organized Satanic practice whatever. To be sure, there is no unbroken tradition of Satanism extending back to biblical times, and there have been only a disappearingly small smattering of self-identified Satanic groups. However, to suggest that The Satanic Temple could better appeal to mass sensibilities by simply choosing instead to apply another, non-Satanic, symbology and narrative to our belief structure is to miss the point entirely. We embrace our outsider status, and we stand resolutely with the doubting and unsilenced inquirers. We openly seek to destroy cruel, divisive witch-hunting demonologies, not to preserve them by acceding to a false assumption of intrinsic criminality and moral deficiency in the Satanic narrative.
Recent history has proven that even our contemporary secular legal system in the United States is not immune from lapses into unreasoned mob-fueled purges of imagined, or falsely accused, outgroups, underscoring a need for permanent vigilant counter-balance, and open identification with the demonized.
Trailing implausibly at the end of what came to be known as “the Rights Revolution” — during which Civil Liberties in the United States were greatly expanded during the 1960s – 70s — the 1980s found enlightened American culture perplexingly devolving into the crass medievalism of an outright witch-hunt. Claims of Satanic cults roving the rural American landscape, engaging in foul acts of the most savage and anti-human kind, captured the imagination of a frightened public. Daycare centers were seen as hotbeds of deviant cult activities where children were abused and defiled in perverse rituals. Conspiracy theories of a parallel Satanic society found a credulous market in daytime talk-show audiences.
The only supporting evidence for this conspiracy theory were similar to those for claims of alien abduction — in fact, they were exactly the same. A pseudoscientific segment of psychotherapy, maintaining the debunked notion that trauma is likely to be entirely forgotten — repressed — until metastasizing into outward expressions of mental malaise, propagated spurious techniques of “recovered memory therapy”. Through sodium amytal interviews, hypnosis, and other (equally irresponsible) methods, these zealous quacks attempted to draw forth concealed oppressive “memories” believed to haunt their clients’ unconscious minds. What they created instead were perverse delusions of abuse that defied corroboration and, often, even basic reason. An insular conspiracist subculture emerged within the study of Dissociative Disorders dedicated to a paranoid belief in a Satanic underground practicing an insidious trauma-based mind-control, thoroughly discarding any possible material evidence of their crimes. A lack of corroborative evidence was seen merely as evidence of the conspiracy’s preternatural efficiency.
Countless innocent people ended up accused of heinous crimes, their families destroyed, some even landing in prison, for confabulatory and bizarre claims no more credible than any narrative derived from a “Past Life Regression” session with an amateur stage hypnotist. The whole sorry episode, now referred to by sociologists as the “Satanic Panic” has been explored in many worthwhile books and articles.
Much of what people think they know about Satanism is still derived from this thoroughly debunked conspiracist panic. However, this is not to say that there are no good reasons to fear a politically active Satanic movement. Particularly, those who seek to maintain the illusion of a Judeo-Christian religiopolitical monopoly are correct to fear The Satanic Temple. We will continue to assert the rights of religious non-believers, and we intend to offer our counter-balance wherever necessary.
(All assertions of viewpoint equality aside, it is worth mentioning that The Satanic Temple outright rejects some allowances of religious privilege. We do not seek tax exemption, and we strongly feel that churches and religious organizations should pay their taxes.)
Some secularists have bemoaned our efforts, objecting that they would prefer no religious encroachment into public affairs, as opposed to multiple religious encroachments. This criticism is ill-directed at us, as we have never sought to intrude where a breach of Church and State separation hasn’t already been at issue. Perhaps it is best if there are no displays of religious influence in the Public Square. However, wherever such displays exist, we refuse to submit to the appearance of one viewpoint exclusively co-opting the power and authority of the government. Politicians and pious activists alike should be aware: where the door is opened for religious participation in public affairs, Satanists intend to march in.