Rosemary’s Baby it ain’t.
Rather than being on a mission to impregnate someone with the devil’s spawn, the Satanic Temple is attempting to use the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision to opt out of a law they don’t agree with on the basis of religious conviction.
The Satanic Temple announced on Monday that “informed consent” abortion laws — which require doctors to give state-mandated information that can be inaccurate or misleading to women seeking abortions in an effort to provide a “balanced” perspective — violate the temple’s religious philosophy.
“The Satanic Temple believes that the body is inviolable subject to one’s own will alone,” the group’s website says. “We strive to make all decisions regarding personal health based on the best scientific understanding of the world, regardless of the religious or political beliefs of others.”
The temple published its medical exemption letter online for any woman seeking an abortion in a state that mandates biased counseling to use.
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This Satanist group isn’t fighting to conduct human sacrifice, eat babies, or whatever it is people think Satanists do. The Satanic Temple is a sort of opposition group that mobilizes “politically aware Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty” across several campaigns that include the right to same-sex marriage, women’s rights, and even a Protect the Children Project that seeks to use a similar religious exemption to ban corporal punishment in schools.
But critics, like the Anton Lavey-founded Church of Satan, suggest that the Satanic Temple is merely a prank. Last year, Church of Satan Magus Peter Gilmore wrote (without naming the Satanic Temple outright) that the group’s “public stunts” were obnoxious and made devoted Satanists “look as ridiculous as the theist belief systems that are being mocked.”
To be fair, the Satanic Temple isn’t the first self-professed Satanist group that Gilmore has dissed: he’s written public kiss-offs to just about every other Satanist group he calls “Pretenders to the Throne.”
Whether the Satanic Temple is a prank perpetrated by hired actors, a sincere church, or a genius PR spin on a political collective, they get attention. And in the case of the informed-consent abortion laws, they appear ready for the fight.
“All women who share our deeply held belief that all their personal choices should be made with access to the best available information, undiluted by biased or false information, are free to seek protection with this exemption whether they are members of the Satanic Temple or not,” Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves said in the temple’s press release.
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The Hobby Lobby ruling determined that a corporation, in addition to religious organizations, can cite deeply held convictions in order to circumvent federal law. In that case, the business owner — an evangelical Christian — didn’t want to pay for a select group of birth control methods he considered to be abortifacients.
Greaves claims that the temple has “tens of thousands” of members, based on how many people have signed up online. But Greaves stressed that the exemption letter was vetted by attorneys and stands as a viable option for anyone looking to opt out of biased counseling before abortion.
“We realize that people have a knee-jerk reaction to Satanism, and a lot of people who share our believes aren’t comfortable identifying with it,” Greaves told VICE News. “So we’re putting it out there. We can offer this exemption in general to people who aren’t required to identify as Satanists on those grounds.”
Greaves identifies as an atheist, and doesn’t believe in “a personal Satan or a personal God.” The Satanic Temple mission statement says, “The mission of the Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people. In addition, we embrace practical common sense and justice.”
Anyone who agrees with the seven basic tenets of the Satanic Temple, according to Greaves, can argue that they have a legal right to opt out of informed consent abortion laws. “Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world,” goes one tenet. “We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.”
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The Center for Reproductive Rights lists thirty-two states with biased counseling laws mandating that women seeking abortion must receive information designed basically to change her mind. In some states, the law even mandates that a woman be told there is a link between abortion and breast cancer, even though the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society have stated that there is no link.
Texas has one of the strictest state anti-abortion counseling policies in the nation: all abortion providers are required to perform an ultrasound on a woman seeking abortion, show her the ultrasound images and provide a full “medical description” of the images, make her listen to the fetal or embryonic heartbeat if there is one, tell her there’s a link to breast cancer, and then make her wait 24 hours until she can come back for the abortion procedure.
Attorney James MacNaughton, who represents the Satanic Temple, told VICE News that the abortion debate has long been divided along two lines: the religiously opposed, and those who seek abortion rights based on personal liberty under the law. But The Satanic Temple seeks to change that.
“The legal debate over abortion has a religious component. Many of the activities and laws around abortion are based on the sincerely held belief that life begins with conception,” MacNaughton said. “What’s been missing from that debate is that some people don’t believe life begins at conception. There are people who believe that the tissue of an embryo or a fetus is not a human life subject to protection under the Constitution.”
The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision relied heavily on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that was designed to protect the practices of religious groups as they might conflict with the law.
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The primary case behind the RFRA the Hobby Lobby decision was Employment Division v. Smith, a case in which two members of a Native American church sued after being fired when their employers found out they’d ingested peyote during a religious ceremony. Though peyote is a Schedule I controlled substance, the court found that its longstanding ceremonial use allowed for some exemptions from its illegality.
“Religion is an exercise of faith,” MacNaughton said. “You don’t have to be a member of the Satanic Temple to hold these religious beliefs. You can hold these beliefs in the name of whatever denomination you choose… and [the courts] have to take that seriously.”
Beyond the legal standing of religious beliefs, though, what the Satanic Temple’s challenge highlights most is the perceived disparity between deeply held religious convictions and deeply held convictions, period. For Greaves, the same conviction cited in the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision should apply regardless of where that belief comes from.
“If you’re going to say that because you don’t believe in a personal God or a personal Satan, that you’re deeply held belief is meaningless, that makes no sense,” said Greaves. “You’re privileging a superstition.”
It isn’t the first time Greaves and the Satanic Temple have piggybacked on a Christian legal victory to make a point about equality of conviction. This January, the temple announced their plan to install a Satanic monument on the Oklahoma statehouse lawn, rattling local politicians.
VICE published the first photos of the horned, winged Baphomet statue this May. The monument, still in production, is a response to a 2012 installation of a controversial Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol.
“I think they’re trying to get our goat,” Oklahoma state representative Paul Wesselhoft told the local KFOR station. “What will disqualify them has really nothing to do with Satan, as such. It’s that it has no historical significance for the State of Oklahoma.” Wesselhoft went on to claim that because the Ten Commandments were “the earliest laws we have” and “at the Capitol, what we do is make laws,” the Christian monument had historical significance.
The Satanic Temple filed a formal application with the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission for the monument to be placed next to the Ten Commandments statue, but the state has suspended the issuance of any monument permits until a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of the Satanic Temple is settled.
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