THE SATANIC TEMPLE
2012: The first public presence of what became The Satanic Temple occurred with the posting of a Facebook page to promote a planned documentary film.
2013 (January): The Satanic Temple hosted a rally in support of Florida Governor Rick Scott in support of prayer in schools.
2013 (June): The Satanic Temple began to raise money for its “Adopt-a-Highway” campaign.
2013 (July): Members of The Satanic Temple performed a Pink Mass in Meridian, Mississippi at the grave of the mother of Westboro Church's founder, Fred Phelps.
2013: Doug Mesner acknowledged that Lucien Greaves was his movement identity.
2013-2014: In Michigan, both national and local The Satanic Temple organized opposition to gay marriage and to religious holiday displays in public space.
2013-2014: The Satanic Temple protested the distribution of Bibles in Florida's public schools and the display of a nativity scene in the Capitol Building.
2014 (January): The Satanic Temple announced plans to build a satanic monument in front of the Oklahoma Statehouse after the state permitted the installation of a Ten Commandments monument in 2012.
2014 (May): Public controversy arose when The Satanic Temple was invited to perform a Black Mass ritual at Harvard University in conjunction with the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club.
2014 (May): The Satanic Temple celebrated “Protect Children Day” to protest corporal punishment in schools.
2014 (June): Lucien Greaves announced that both heterosexual and homosexual marriage were sacraments.
2014 (September): The Satanic Temple announced plans to locate its first “chapter house” in Detroit, Michigan.
2014 (September 22): A Black Mass was held in Oklahoma City.
2015 (June): The Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments statue must be removed from the Capitol grounds.
The Satanic Temple was co-founded by an individuals known as Doug Mesner and Malcolm Jarry who has adopted an organizational persona, Lucien Greaves. However, Mesner claims that this name is also a pseudonym; if he has a different, legal name, it is not publicly known. Malcolm Jarry is listed as a co-founder, but Greaves is the primary public spokesman for the group. Little is known about Greaves' personal history. He grew up in Detroit and later attended Harvard University, where he studied cognitive science. He became interested in researching witch-hunts and various forms of Satanism, and as he has put it, “I actually have a long background in studying witch hunts and the idea of Satanism” (Gremore 2013). By Greaves' account, “I grew up in the shadow of what is now known to sociologists as “the Satanic Panic”—an embarrassing episode of witch-hunting in the modern era. I was horrified by daytime talk show fables of homicidal Satanic cult hordes. I became very curious, later on, regarding the question of the truth of the conspiracy claims, and I began pursuing this as an active study (Bugbee 2013). This interest led, in 2009, to his attending a “Ritual Abuse/Mind-Control” conference in Connecticut where I listened to “experts” elaborate upon their beliefs in Satanic Ritual crimes. I thought they would be a fringe grouping of delusional people holding firmly to incredible beliefs, hurting nobody but themselves. What I found instead was a twisted subculture of licensed therapists, and their clients, who subscribe to a pseudoscientific belief in “dissociative amnesia”: The theory that some events—particularly sexual abuse—can be so uniquely traumatic that the conscious mind cannot comprehend it, and thus those memories are “repressed.” In this sense, Greaves' interests have always been more political than religious. Greaves has authored for the Skeptical Inquirer, Daily Kos, and Atheist Nexus (Resnick 2014).
For The Satanic Temple, Satan is, metaphorically,“The Eternal Rebel” and is used to resist repressive authority and societal norms (Radford 2014; “The Satanic Temple” n.d.). The Satanic Temple website states that its organizational mission is “to encourage benevolence and kindness and empathy among all people” and lists Seven Fundamental Tenets (“The Satanic Temple" n.d.).
One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
One's body is inviolable, subject to one's own will alone.
The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forego your own.
Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
The Temple is quite insistent about its atheistic stance and its elevation of self-sovereignty hood over worship of a religious leader, historical or contemporary, embeddedness in a religious tradition, or what it regards as “supernatural superstition” (Panne 2014). In its view, “Satan stands as the ultimate icon for the selfless revolt against tyranny, free & rational inquiry, and the responsible pursuit of happiness” (“The Satanic Temple Adopt-A-Highway Campaign” 2013). As Greaves has summarized the matter, “Satan” is [simply] a metaphorical construct by which we contextualize our work” (Bugbee 2013). “Truth” always remains provisional and contingent on future scientific findings. The broader mission of The Satanic Temple is “to advocate for all of those who are unjustly maligned, demonized, or marginalized—victimized by conspiracy theorists and dogmatic supernaturalists (Bugbee 2013).
The group does not have regular meetings where rituals are held. Rather, the group tends to be involved in various types of protest events that may be organized in a ritualistic format but are political and oppositional in nature. For example, The Satanic Temple has performed Black Mass and Pink Mass events as platforms in furtherance of its support for gay rights and opposition to religious representations in the public square.
The Satanic Temple appears to have originated out of a project, for which Greaves was enlisted as a consultant, to produce a political “mockumentary” that would address the separation of church and state debate. Organization membership is open worldwide to anyone who accepts the seven tenets and either works with or identifies with the activities of the group. Individuals may become a member through an online portal, and can purchase an optional membership card for twenty-five dollars (The Satanic Temple n.d.). The website describes The Satanic Temple as simply consisting “...of individual Satanists worldwide dedicated to participating in and/or identifying with the activities of TST” (“The Satanic Temple” n.d.). At its inception the group had not more than a few dozen members (Resnick 2014).
The Satanic Temple does not have a physical meeting location or a formal organizational structure, but does maintain an active internet site presence. In September, 2014, the group announced plans to build its first “chapter house” in Detroit, Michigan, where Greaves spent his childhood. The Temple representative stated that “The plan is to open the chapter house to the public during certain scheduled hours. It will provide literature for visitors, as well as a meeting space, and perform traditional services like marriages and funerals” (“Devil in Detroit” 2014). Additional chapter houses in other cities were also reported to be in the planning stages (Allen 2014).
The organization supports its projects in part through donations. Suggested amounts for various purposes range from ten dollars to ten thousand dollars, with a one hundred dollar contribution earning the title “Luciferian Activist.” The group also supports some projects through separate project fundraisers.
The high level of public visibility that the group has achieved is primarily the result of organized projects, which are often widely reported in the media, and reflect its organizational priorities (Levy 2014; Smith 2014). Indeed, its projects have drawn national attention, and, in several cases, considerable controversy. Beginning in 2013, The Satanic Temple began organizing a series of projects that have become the primary source of the group's public identity.
In June, 2013, The Satanic Temple began to raise money for its “Adopt-a-Highway” campaign.
In January, 2013, the Temple staged a rally for a legislative bill in Florida promoted by Governor Rick Scott that would allow prayer in public schools. The Satanic Temple turned the governor's intent (allowing Christian prayer) on its head by supporting the initiative so that school children in Florida would also have equal access to satanic beliefs and practices.
In July, 2013, members of the group performed a “Pink Mass” in Meridian, Mississippi at the grave of Catherine Johnston, the mother of Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps to protest the church's activities.
In 2013-2014, both national and local The Satanic Temple organizations protested opposition to gay marriage and to religious holiday displays in public space in Michigan.
In 2013-2014, The Satanic Temple protested the distribution of Bibles in Florida's public schools and the display of a nativity scene in the Capitol Building.
In January, 2014, The Satanic Temple announced plans to build a satanic monument in front of the Oklahoma Statehouse after the state permitted the installation of a Ten Commandments monument in 2012.
In May, 2014, The Satanic Temple was invited to perform a Black Mass ritual at Harvard University in conjunction with the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club.
On May 15, 2014, The Satanic Temple announced and celebrated its own holiday, Protect Children Day.
The controversies in which The Satanic Temple has been involved begin with the group's founding, which has been misattributed as part of the Temples oppositional agenda (Shurter n.d.) According to the group's website, The Satanic Temple was founded by Neil Bricke, who started a Facebook page for the organization in 2012. The Satanic Temple's website states: “In 2012, Neil Bricke, raised in a multigenerational Satanic Temple tradition of worship, decided, with the blessings of his fellow Satanic devotees, to officially found the Satanic Temple” (SMART n.d.). Lucien Greaves announced that Bricke would speak at a rally in support of Governor Rick Scott in January, 2013; however, Bricke has never appeared publicly since that announcement and almost certainly does exist. Rather, it appears that the Lucien Greaves was mocking Neil Brick, who founded Stop Mind Control and Ritual Abuse Today (S.M.A.R.T.). The group's website states that “S.M.A.R.T. ritual abuse newsletter was founded in 1995 by Neil Brick. The purpose of S.M.A.R.T. is to help stop ritual abuse and child abuse and to help those who have been ritually abused. We work toward this goal by disseminating information on the connections between secretive organizations, ritual abuse, and mind control, by encouraging healing from the damage done by child abuse, ritual abuse and mind control, and by encouraging survivors to network” (S.M.A.R.T. n.d.). Greaves has been a determined opponent of groups that present themselves as ritual abuse support organizations.
As a group that identifies itself in satanic imagery, The Satanic Temple has also been frequently linked to the Church of Satan.
Greaves acknowledges the work of Anton LaVey but also distances the Temple from LaVeyan Satanism. Greaves has stated that “LaVey is an excellent jumping-off point, but his work was a product of its time, and it's appropriate to recontexualize it to today's reality. LaVey was active during a time in which, for decades, the United States was on a dysfunctional spiral of increasing violence. As a result, LaVey's rhetoric tended toward Social Darwinistic Police State politics.” In contemporary society, Greaves asserts, “We also find that Social Darwinism, interpreted in brutal, strictly self-interested terms, is counter-productive, and based on a simplistic misinterpretation of evolutionary theory. We do better when we work in groups, where altruism and compassion are rewarded. We are social animals” (Bugbee 2013). For its part, the Church of Satan also rejects The Satanic Temple. Magus Peter Gilmore stated that “the Church of Satan only applies the term “Satanist” to itself; the others are called “devil worshipers or demonolators, not Satanists” and concluded that “We see nothing of value in the actions of this handful of individuals” (Allen 2014). A spokesperson for another satanic group, Temples of Satan, which honors Satan as a deity, took offense at The Satanic Temple's atheistic stance: “An atheist is what?” she said. “They don't believe in anything, any religion — so why are they using a religion to do it? That is hypocritical, it's an oxymoron and it's not even credible” (Allen 2014). She went on to state that "They cannot, and nor do they, speak on behalf of the rest of the Satanic community, that believe in the creator, who we call Satan ... the one that predates Christianity," she said. "The one who is in the first creation epic, who fought the dragon Tiamat for mankind" (DeVito 2014).
One of the less controversial projects launched by The Satanic Temple was an attempt to raise enough money to “adopt-a-highway” in New York City. The adopt-a-highway program would have involved the group maintaining and beautifying part of the public highway for up to two years. The Satanic Temple hoped to use this project to raise awareness about religious diversity. The group stated that “The campaign will do more than keep our highways clean. It will help send a clear message to the world reaffirming American Religious Plurality” (“The Satanic Temple Adopt-a-Highway Campaign” 2013). The group raised just over two thousand dollars between June 10 and August 15, 2013, far short of the goal of fifteen thousand dollars. Had been reached and had the New York Department of Transportation approved the plan, the funds would have been put toward the campaign. In the event that the department did not approve the project, the funds were to support contesting that decision. The organization offered different incentive levels for donations, ranging from ten dollars, for which the donor would receive a button, to ten thousand dollars, for which the donor would receive a full “Membership Package,” including the ability to choose the location of and to participate in the next Pink Mass that The Satanic Temple performed (“The Satanic Temple Adopt-A-Highway Campaign” 2013).
In July, 2013, in Meridian, Mississippi, members of the group performed a “Pink ass” at the grave of Catherine Johnston, the mother of Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps. Greaves told ABC News that the event was an anti-protest, in response to the Westboro Church's intention to protest the funerals of those who were killed in the Boston Marathon bombings. During the ritual, Greaves wore a two-horn headdress, and three couples, two male, and one female, had sexual relations over the grave headstone while reading biblical passages (Goldman 2013; Resnick 2014). Following the ceremony the group declared Mrs. Johnson to be a lesbian retrospectively, and Lucien Greaves stated that the ritual represented a celebration of gay love. A spokesperson for Westboro Baptist Church reiterated the church's position that homosexuality is a sin and that the penalty is death (Gremore 2013).
In May, 2014, The Satanic Temple was invited to perform a Black Mass ritual at Harvard University in conjunction with the Harvard
Extension Cultural Studies Club (Laycock 2014). The Harvard Extension School's Cultural Studies club was hosting a series of educational events examining aspects of other cultures, including a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist presentation on meditation. (Kuruvilla 2014). As many as 60,000 people, including Harvard students, faculty and alumni, signed an online petition that urged Harvard administrators to refuse to allow the event on campus. While Harvard President, Drew Faust, did not cancel the event and defended student's right to sponsor it, he did label the Black Mass as “flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory” (Lee 2014). Administrators in the Harvard Extension School stated that “they do not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization such as this one. “But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely” (Annear 2014). The Archdiocese of Boston weighed in with a condemnation of the event: “ The Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Boston expresses its deep sadness and strong opposition to the plan to stage a "black mass" on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge. For the good of the Catholic faithful and all people, the Church provides clear teaching concerning Satanic worship. This activity separates people from God and the human community, it is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places participants dangerously close to destructive works of evil ” (Annear 2014; Kuruvilla 2014).
In an attempt to defend its invitation, the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club released the following statement: “ We are hosting a reenactment of a historical event known as a Black Mass. The performance is designed to be educational and is preceded by a lecture that provides the history, context, and origin of the Black Mass. While a piece of bread is used in the reenactment, the performance unequivocally does not include a consecrated host. Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes, but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices. This performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture” (Kuruvilla 2014). Ultimately, t he club decided to cancel the on-campus event, but The Satanic Temple still conducted the Black Mass at the Hong Kong lounge in Harvard Square without Club sponsorship. The Club did state that “The Satanic Temple has informed us that they will stage their own black mass ceremony at an undisclosed private location to ‘reaffirm their respect for the Satanic faith and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is to shame those who marginalize others by letting their own words and actions speak for themselves,' ” the studies club said (Lee 2014; Lauerman 2014). Greaves stated that the Black Mass would be held for educational purposes only and was not intended to mock the Roman Catholic Church. The community demonstrated its rejection of the event as over 1,500 people with a march from MIT to St. Paul Church, including the President of Harvard.
In May, 2014, The Satanic Temple announced the creation of its own holiday, Protect Children Day, to be celebrated annually onMay 15. The holiday is intended to protest corporal punishment in schools as part of a larger mission of promoting personal sovereignty. Students participate by downloading a prepared letter from the Temple website and delivering it to their school principals on May 15, requesting exemption from corporal punishment for religious reasons. As part of the Protect Children Project, the group is spreading awareness about corporal punishment, as well as solitary confinement and restricted bathroom access in schools. Temple co-founder, Malcolm Jarry stated that the project defends basic Temple principles: “inviolability of the human body, the control of one's destiny, freedom to pursue one's desires without abusive intervention and opposition to tyrannical powers and authority” (Levy 2014).
Another controversy generated by The Satanic Temple began in November, 2012 when a six-foot-tall, statue of the Ten Commandments was erected outside the Oklahoma City state capitol building (Smith 2014). A Republican in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, Mike Ritze, sponsored a bill in 2009 that authorized the state to place donated displays on the Capitol. He then personally funded the $10,000 statue and donated it to the state. The statue was placed outside the Oklahoma Statehouse in 2012. American Atheists, a New Jersey based organization, responded with a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the statue. The Satanic Temple adopted a somewhat different strategy, planning a seven-foot-tall, bronze Minotaur accompanied by statues of two children, one on each side of the Minotaur. The statue was intended to serve as a “testament to the glory of the Angel of the Bottomless Pit” (Smith 2014). The group raised thirty thousand dollars for design and construction. In the event that the ten commandments statue was removed, The Satanic Temple identified other possible locations for its display (Christian 2014; Resnick 2014). The Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission announced that individuals and groups were free to apply for permission to place a display and that applications would be reviewed by the Commission. The Universal Society of Hinduism also expressed an interest in a display at the site. The state subsequently suspended permits for displays until the ten commandments lawsuit was settled. In June 2015 the Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that the Ten Commandments are"obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths" and therefore the statue must be removed from the Capitol grounds (Murphy 2015).
As the dispute over The Satanic Temple's application continued, a local satanic group, Dakhma of Angra Mainyu Church, which is not accepted by The Satanic Temple, subsequently held a Black Mass at OKC Civic Center on September 22, 2014. About forty people attended while several hundred other turned out to protest the event (Hope 2014; Blumberg 2014).
The Satanic Temple has been involved in several disputes in Michigan. One centers on homosexual marriage, which Governor Rick Snyder has opposed. Greaves has stated that marriage is a sacrament, both heterosexual and homosexual, and has announced plans to perform a gay marriage in Michigan on the grounds of religious freedom (Panne 2014). Greaves has stated that “In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder allows his loathing of homosexuals to trump his adhesion to the Constitution. What we'd like to do is school Snyder on the Constitution, and school him on the First Amendment by performing a gay marriage in Michigan. To us, marriage is a sacrament. We recognize it, and we think the state would have to recognize the marriage on religious liberty grounds. Anyone who wants to do that can reach out and have their marriage performed by Lucien Greaves. We look forward to taking on Michigan on the gay rights issue, and bringing them into the 21st century” (Panne 2014; Metro Times, 2014).
The local Detroit chapter of The Satanic Temple, which claims a few dozen members, organized a satanic holiday display, with the title “The Greatest Gift is Knowledge” on the Capitol lawn. As the local chapter leader noted, “We believe in a metaphorical, literary construct of Satan,” she said. “He's a symbol for rebellion, a symbol of human nature, the thirst for knowledge.” The Michigan State Capitol Commission was forced to accept the display after a Christian group requested permission to place a nativity display on the lawn (Hinkley 2014). The Detroit chapter offered to withdraw its request if the Christian nativity scene was not approved for display (Allen 2014). The Capitol staff has responded by posting signs at the site publicly stipulating that "this exhibit is not owned, maintained, promoted, supported by or associated with the state of Michigan (Chappell 2014).
A similar set of controversies have occurred in Florida. The Satanic Temple petitioned the Orange County School Board in Florida to distribute satanic literature in the public schools in response to Bible distribution by a Christian group. As in the Detroit, Michigan case, the larger objective was to stop all religious material distribution in the public schools. Lucien Greaves stated that “We would never seek to establish a precedent of disseminating our religious materials in public schools because we believe our constitutional values are better served by respecting a strong separation of Church and State. However, if a public school board is going to allow religious pamphlets and full Bibles to be distributed to students — as is the case in Orange County, Florida — we think the responsible thing to do is to ensure that these students are given access to a variety of differing religious opinions, as opposed to standing idly by while one religious voice dominates the discourse and delivers propaganda to youth” (Strauss 2014; Joseph 2014).
In 2013, the Florida Department of Management Services approved religious displays in the rotunda of its Capitol Building. In
addition to a Christian group, two atheist groups and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster created displays. In 2014, after having its application rejected, The Satanic Temple threatened a lawsuit against the State of Florida if state officials denied permission to place a display of an angel falling into the pit of hell next to the Christian nativity scene (Chumley 2014). The dilemma for the state in this case derives most directly from the Supreme Court case, Rosenberger v. University of Virginia . In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that once the state allows a certain form of expression, it cannot choose or censor who engages in the expression or how (Stern 2014).
The Satanic Temple has drawn on the recent Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court to attempt to defeat state-mandated “informed consent” literature requirements for women seeking abortions. The Hobby Lobby ruling stated that businesses that are “closely held” and object to contraceptive use cannot be required to supply insurance that covers abortions, which is required by the Affordable Care Act, by providing a letter women can give to doctors to avoid being handed state-mandated “informed consent” literature before seeking an abortion (Culp-Ressler 2014; Green 2014). Thirty-five states have informed-consent laws specifically addressing abortion. According to a Temple spokesperson, “We are saying we do not believe the state-mandated information is integral to making our decisions about health care, and we find it coercive and we will likewise seek an exemption” (Winston 2014). The spokesperson went on to state that “Our overall goal is to protect abortion access, but we are also interested in combating mandated ultrasounds, right-to-know laws and any coercive, typically religious-based mandates from the state” (Winston 2014). Most constitutional law experts do not believe that The Satanic Temples legal challenge has merit.
The ongoing set of protest activities by The Satanic Temple has yielded media coverage, public visibility, and controversy well beyond the size and influence of the group, much like one of its targets, Westboro Baptist Church. The group has become something of a lightning rod. As the primary spokesperson and most visible representative of The Satanic Temple, Lucien Greaves has continued to receive death threats from conservative opponents in response to Temple initiatives. Greaves has stated that “ I've gotten just so many death threats, I'm just sick of it. It's distressing in a way, how the Fox News crowd points to me” (Metro Times 2014). The Satanic Temple is connected to events only tangentially related to its initiatives. For example, The Satanic Temple was drawn into an event in which mentally unstable individual destroyed the Ten Commandment display in Oklahoma. Greaves responded to the event by stating that “The Satanic Temple was appalled to learn of the act of destructive vandalism laid upon the 10 Commandments monument in Oklahoma today” and “To be clear, “The Satanic Temple will not seek to erect its monument unless the 10 Commandments is restored” (Noland and Donley 2014. Kennelty 2014). In Florida, a woman, who subsequently was charged with criminal mischief, attempted to destroy a holiday display erected by The Satanic Temple, stating that she “could not take it anymore” (Rossman 2014). Given The Satanic Temple's activist agenda and opposition to it, such occurrences appear likely to continue.
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David G. Bromley
15 January 2015