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Satanism is a maligned and marginalized minority religious identity. Though this fact seems indisputable, many bristle at the characterization just the same. Beyond those who hold to a superstition-driven certainty that Satanism channels negative magical forces that “real” religions are designed to oppose, there are those who, for a variety of reasons, dismiss out-of-hand the idea of Satanism as a valid religious identity, much less accept that it is deserving of any protections afforded to minority groups facing extreme prejudice. 

Most of the objections to Satanism’s practice and authenticity are born of “ignorant familiarity”— widely shared erroneous assumptions that are remarkably resistant to re-examination by those who hold them. 

It is not that people doubt that the openly self-identified Satanist can face harassment, discrimination, death threats, and violent assault. It is that there seems to be a prevailing notion, though seldom stated in such crass terms, that we are simply getting what we have asked for. Why call yourself a Satanist when you know you will provoke such a reaction?, we are commonly asked by those whose ignorant familiarity has informed them that our non-theistic affinity for the Ultimate Rebel Against Tyranny means that our values and iconography are arbitrarily chosen, and that we could have just as easily workshopped an entirely different, inoffensive religious framework for what they see as a mere “legal tactic” to counter an alarmingly rapid-expanding Christian privilege.

Having decided that Satanists only identify as such in service to an activist strategy, the “strategy” itself is presumed to be at fault — rather than an attrition of judicial norms — when judges flagrantly exhibit hypocritical or openly corrupt bias against straight-forward Satanist claims for First Amendment guaranteed protections. There is something comforting, it seems, in disregarding Satanic legal efforts as tactical thought experiments rather than front-line battles in a war to preserve a diminishing democracy facing the onslaught of a Christian Nationalist coup. It blissfully ignores the fact that our courts are openly defying established precedent to apply uneven standards that undermine fundamental democratic principles. It allows one to pretend that the Satanist “strategy” and its outcomes are specific to Satanists, and that equality, pluralism, and viewpoint neutrality are somehow unaffected by the pseudolegal tactics that are allowed to prevail against Satanist claims.

The insidious scourge of pseudolaw

Like pseudoscience, pseudolaw can, at times, be difficult for the non-expert to detect. But, also like pseudoscience, pseudolaw is easily recognizable at its extremes. Whether or not the multiverse is a pseudoscientific concept is a matter of scientific debate beyond the grasp of those with no expertise in physics. But the study and treatment of demonic possession is clearly outside the realm of legitimate science, as it purports to engage with a supernatural phenomenon outside of material reality.

Law is not constrained by material reality but is based upon fundamental, constitutional principles of fairness, equality, and due process. The average observer might be confused as to how to navigate the nuances of contract law, but can easily recognize when equality is being disregarded.

It does not take a law degree to understand that when Satanists are denied the same exemptions and privileges being afforded to Christian Nationalists, true religious freedom—the freedom to practice any religion or none with one’s civic capacity in no way increased or diminished—is being ignored.

In Missouri, where The Satanic Temple filed suit against an “informed consent” law requiring that a pregnant person be in receipt of state-mandated materials declaring that “life begins at conception” and abortion is murder 72 hours in advance of terminating their pregnancy, Henry Edward Autrey, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Missouri, waited over nine months to declare the case moot, as the plaintiff could no longer be pregnant.

In Belle Plaine, Minnesota, a city where The Satanic Temple sued to recoup losses incurred after local officials approved the placement of a Satanic veteran’s memorial, only to shut down their “free speech zone” after the monument was constructed, with the openly-stated intention of preventing The Satanic Temple from using their monument for its intended purpose, judge Wilhelmina Marie Wright, a judge of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, made her presumptive bias fully known. Though opposing counsel raised no questions about Satanism’s status as an authentic religion (The Satanic Temple is recognized by the IRS as a church), Wright herself claimed to understand that the Satanic monument was considered by The Satanic Temple to be “religious” because it is “anti-religious.”

She then went on to inappropriately sanction the Satanist legal council in an alarming punitive act that signaled a willingness to dispense punishment merely for identifying with the “wrong” religious perspective.

In Boston, The Satanic Temple was denied equal access to give a pre-City Council meeting invocation. The public meetings are typically opened with a Christian prayer. The City has defaulted in the suit twice, for which the judge simply extended their deadlines. However, when The Satanic Temple sought to depose Boston’s mayor who as a council member personally penned a denial letter to the Satanists making the absurd claim that Boston has a (somehow) non-discriminatory invitation-only policy, the judge, Angel Kelley, decried the move as an effort to generate “publicity,” and granted the mayor protection from having to answer for her own actions.

The list goes on.

Outrage against this blatant corruption of judicial standards is, outside of The Satanic Temple itself, nearly non-existent. With each astonishingly corrupt ruling, there is no shortage of legal scholars who will publicly beclown themselves with pseudolegal rationales that support the judge’s view while ignoring the disparate treatment given identical claims. Common are the pseudolegal analyses which declare that Satanic claims stand or fall on the ability to cite a specific pre-existing doctrine that narrowly specifies the exact circumstances in question, while ignoring the mountain of examples in which Christian claims were taken at face value without any attempt at biblical justification. 

Complacently disappointed, outside observers often interpret even the most ludicrous pseudolegal rationales against Satanist claims as evidence that the claim itself was faulty, that equality never existed for Satanist interests. But if equality is not available for Satanists, or if equal treatment for minority religions is believed to be flexible to the subjective interests of a judge, we have abdicated our rights, without protest, to pseudolegal arguments that deny our rights ever existed at all. It is a silent coup that upends constitutional norms while insisting that nothing has changed, and it has proven effective in convincing large populations on either side of the political divide. 

Having personalized the fights for religious pluralism taken on by The Satanic Temple as individual, discrete affairs of little consequence outside of The Satanic Temple, we allow judges to contort the law to give exclusive privileges to a theocratic Christian movement while comfortably imagining that “real” minority interests are somehow safe. In this way, the plight of Satanists seeking true religious freedom offers a window into the seemingly inexorable 21st century decline of democracy, with the would-be resistance to the rise of autocracy immediately yielding to spurious claims of legal technicality that undermine basic constitutional principles. 

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Lucien Greaves is the most prominent contemporary Satanist in the world and front person for the band Satanic Planet. As spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, Greaves has gained international attention...