Originally published on the Friendly Atheist Blog January 13, 2016
On December 30, we learned that the town council of Brookville, Indiana had voted unanimously to disallow a Nativity display that had, for the past 50 years, resided each holiday season on their county’s Courthouse lawn. This reaction was the result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of The Satanic Temple (TST) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The county had rejected our own applications for putting up displays near the Nativity, prompting the legal action.
The suit was settled, as National Law Journal explained, “with the condition that Franklin County will allow local residents and churches to erect nonreligious displays outside the courthouse.” Groups like ours only needed a local contact to file for the permit.
It was a victory in the name of pluralism.
That’s why it was alarming when the Christian Post completely rejected the very facts of the lawsuit and its outcome, framing the entire affair as a defeat for the non-Christian side and The Satanic Temple in particular.
Either dramatically failing to understand the lawsuit or willfully misrepresenting events, the Christian Post ran a headline on Dec. 21st which read “Satanists Lose 2nd Nativity Scene Battle in Indiana Court.” Another headline on the 23rd read, “A Nativity Court Victory Sends Satanists Packing!”
Not only did the Post falsely present the case as one in which TST fought to have the Nativity removed — we didn’t — the publication also declared it a resounding victory for the town because the open forum “survived a second lawsuit brought against it by secularist groups.”
The same publication has curiously said nothing about the story since the Brookville town board’s vote to remove the Nativity scene.
Naturally, this wasn’t the first time we had been misrepresented in the press.
On October 6, 2015, the Catholic website LifeSiteNews ran an article with this headline: “Satanists to Democrat Missouri governor: Abortion is a ‘sacrament.’” In reality, though, The Satanic Temple has never referred to abortion as a sacrament, nor do we treat it as such.
We have filed State and Federal lawsuits against abortion restrictions in Missouri, but we’ve been very clear that our deeply-held beliefs protect, as sacrosanct, bodily autonomy and freedom of choice informed by the best available scientific data. To be sure, we’re not advocating abortions over live births, and if you read our statements on the topic, it would be very difficult to think otherwise. Still, some Christian “journalists” clearly believe they’re qualified to discern the “true” motivations behind our sinister agenda. One embarrassingly medieval-minded writer at Breitbart even rehashed superstitious blood libel theories, stating, “Satanism has a millennial history of association with child sacrifice, which makes its financial and moral support of abortion a logical corollary to its other activities.” This claim, which was once mindlessly stated about Jews, is now attached to imaginary Satanist conspiracies.
While the claim that we declare abortion a “sacrament” is annoyingly misrepresentative, it also bears the criminality of being an uncreative, already abused distortion of our position on gay rights. Back on June 11, 2014, CNSNews.com (Christian News Service) ran a headline stating: “Satanic Temple: Gay Marriage is ‘a Sacrament,’” incorrectly indicating that we prefer homosexual marriage over heterosexual unions, rather than view them as equal (which is our actual position).
Where does any of this come from? Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, many states were attempting to define marriage in strictly heterosexual terms. Michigan was a battleground for the debate, and in an interview with a Detroit publication, I said that I, as a Satanic minister, would be willing to perform same-sex weddings which, if unrecognized by the state, would result in a religious discrimination lawsuit.
On our website, we explained:
Our position is that marriage is a religious sacrament and should be governed under the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty, which should prevail over state laws. We are available to perform weddings in Michigan as well as other states that do not recognize same sex unions.
To CNS News specifically, I had elaborated: “As a ‘sacrament,’ marriage performed by us is, to us, of unique importance and significance. We’re not saying that gay marriage is more of a sacrament than heterosexual marriage, but no less a sacrament.”
CNS, like so many other Christian conspiracists, refused to consider an appeal to equality without coloring it as an assault meant to entirely eradicate traditional norms. In their willful ignorance, anything short of the criminalization of homosexuality is an assault on their cherished, archaic values. Annoying as this is, at least we had used the word “sacrament” in our statements related to marriage; it wasn’t exclusive to same-sex unions. When it comes to reproductive rights, though, we never used the word “sacrament” at all. Still, the word is now frequently attached to us, always in quotes, never with attribution.
For these zealous theocratic Christian “journalists,” it’s not enough to merely misrepresent The Satanic Temple in their own reporting. They must also feign affront and injury should any media outlet have the audacity to consider our actual words. Following any bit of responsible coverage of TST’s campaigns, there is inevitably a barrage of indignant commentary regarding the “liberal media’s” perceived alignment with the Satanic cause.
Last month, CNN’s This Life With Lisa Ling aired a full episode dedicated to The Satanic Temple and our works. Expressing their disgust even before the episode had aired, Newsbusters.org predictably found the factual reporting an unconscionable attack on their faith — “horrifying, in no small part, due to Ling’s enthusiastic reporting.”
Catholic League President and regular Fox News outrage-monger Bill Donohue also condemned this “very sympathetic show on Satanism.” He was particularly upset that the episode “allowed an un-named mother — she is a Satanist — to blame Christianity for her gay son’s suicide, providing no evidence whatsoever. Worse, she was enticed by reporter Lisa Ling to do so. ‘Do you blame the church?’ ‘Oh, yes, absolutely,’ the Satanist said.”
In fact, the mother in question was named. She’s Nikki Moungo of The Satanic Temple’s St. Louis chapter. The notion that her son experienced feelings of humiliation and alienation that contributed to his suicide — surrounded, as he was, by anti-gay Christians — hardly seems like an outrageous claim for which extraordinary evidence is required. Nor is it altogether clear what Donohue is driving at when he complains that Ling “allowed” this claim to be made.
CNS News was no more sympathetic to Nikki’s story. Describing it as “incredibly vague,” there wasn’t a moment wasted in even considering the possibility that Christian bigotry could have contributed to her son’s suicide. Rather, it was Christians who were the victims by the very airing of such an absurd tale and, scandalously, “CNN didn’t care what the Christians thought of it.”
Actually, Ling interviewed Christians in her report. One of them, Pastor David Bullock, led a protest against The Satanic Temple in Detroit, calling for one of our private events to be shut down to appease his own superstitious enthusiasms. “They’re anti-church-dominance, which means they’re anti-us,” he indignantly proclaimed.
“Do you think there’s room in this city for everyone to be able to practice what they believe?” Lisa Ling asked him.
“If you wanna do it in your basement, that’s fine, but parading it in public and trying to bring legitimacy to symbolism — that is not positive.” He said this while marching in public, proclaiming his faith, and shouting into a megaphone.
Encountering a couple of Catholic journalists, also protesting TST’s presence in Detroit, Ling asked one, “Do you believe in freedom of religion?”
“So, to that extent, do you not believe that they [The Satanic Temple] should be able to practice their religion?”
“I don’t believe that people are free for error. People are free for the truth, but never for something that’s wrong.”
“If they espoused any other belief, other than Satan, would you be ok with them?”
“No, I’m not okay with any other religion because the only true religion is Catholicism.”
The man who stated these inanities represented a website called Church Militant and, perhaps stung by the embarrassing (though honest) representation, they soon fired back by publishing one of the most egregiously defamatory pieces about The Satanic Temple to date.
Specifically taking aim at me, writer Joseph Gonzalez flagrantly lied, describing me as a “sex offender.” (To be clear, I am not, either by legal sanction or deed.) There was no indication given as to how this “mistake” could have been made, nor did they offer any resistance when I immediately (upon being informed of the publication) insisted via email that they remove the offending remark or face litigation. They quickly apologized and revised their article accordingly.
The more flagrantly the representatives of faith lie about us, the more they prove our case.
If you’d like to support The Satanic Temple’s reproductive rights campaign, you can donate here.