2014 was the year of the Satanist. In December 2013, The Satanic Temple announced plans to erect a statue of Baphomet on the grounds of the capital in Oklahoma City. This Baphomet statue was intended to challenge the constitutionality of a Ten Commandments monument erected on the capital grounds in 2012. That story has continued to develop all year. Meanwhile, members of The Satanic Temple, led by spokesperson Lucien Greaves, have been working like fiends with campaigns from Tallahassee to Detroit to Cambridge. Several other Satanic groups have also shown increased activity—apparently jealous of Greaves and the media attention he’s received. For most, the year of Satanism has been either a sign of the apocalypse or a source of hilarious news items. But Greaves says their goal is to change the “socio-political dialogue.” For scholars of law and religion, this has been an unprecedented series of events that has forced a conversation about the first amendment and what we mean when we talk about “religion.” Here’s a month-by-month break down of 2014’s Satanic controversies.
In an interview for Religion Dispatches, Greaves explained that his goal is not to promote Satanic worship but to demonstrate why the establishment clause must be applied consistently. He stated that although he does not believe in a supernatural Satan, his group is a religion because it has shared set of values, for which Satan is only a symbol. He criticized the Church of Satan, headed by Magus Peter H. Gilmore, for being more interested in promoting their brand then in challenging the status quo.
In early January the Temple released sketches of their statue. Peter Gilmore poo-pooed the design, saying it smacked of pedophilia. On Fox Business News, producer Bernard McGuirk suggested that Satanists should be lined in front of their statue and shot. Lawyers from the Satanic Temple demanded an apology.
In February, the media focused on Miranda Barbour, 19, who was accused of killing a man she met on Craigslist. The “Craigslist Killer” alleged that she had been inducted into a Satanic cult at an early age and was forced to kill numerous people. In interviews, Gilmore and Greaves dismissed Barbour’s claims, diffusing some of the Satanic Panic.
Fred Phelps died on March 19. Amid rumors that the anti-gay pastor was on his deathbed, Greaves announced plans to hold a ritual over his gravesite that would posthumously make Phelps gay. Last year, Greaves travelled to Mississippi and performed a similar “pink mass” over the grave of Phelps’s mother. Local police vowed to charge Greaves with grave desecration, but no arrests were made.
In April, the Satanic Temple announced its “Protect Children Project,” which opposes the use of corporal punishment in schools. It encouraged students to assert their religious conviction that their body is inviolable and cannot be subjected to abusive punishment. The Satanic Temple offered to put school boards “on notice” if they violate the religious rights of students. The campaign also produced a fact-sheet on the psychological damage caused by corporal punishment.
On May 5, the Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that the town of Greece, New York, could use explicitly Christian prayers to open its council meetings. For many the ruling represented an erosion of the establishment clause. Greaves rejoiced at another opportunity for public displays of Satanism and even composed a Satanic prayer for future council meetings.
Also in May, The Satanic Temple drew national media attention after they announced plans to hold a black mass at Harvard University as part of a series of cultural performances. Conservative Catholic bloggers whipped up a frenzy with speculation that a consecrated host would be desecrated during the performance. The black mass was cancelled at the last minute as 1500 protesting Catholics held a Eucharistic procession down Massachusetts Avenue. Some observers opined that this cancellation represented a defeat for the values of religious tolerance and pluralism that Harvard has traditionally espoused.
In June, Greaves did a number of interviews taking aim at Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and his efforts to ban gay marriage and limit access to abortion. A native of Detroit, Greaves called Snyder “an idiot governor.” He discussed campaigns that would invoke the free exercise clause to challenge Snyder’s legislation, including the assertions that gay marriage is a Satanic sacrament and that Satanic bodies are sacrosanct and cannot be subject to trans-vaginal probes.
On June 30, The Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby could invoke religious objections to avoid covering contraception in its employees’ health plans.
This ruling encouraged the Satanic Temple to launch its “Right to Accurate Medical Information” campaign. The campaign took aim at state laws requiring women to review informational materials before they can receive an abortion. The Satanic Temple claimed this information is misleading and that making decisions based on accurate information is a sacred right. Their website featured a letter for women to show medical professionals claiming a religious exemption from examining informed consent materials.
In July, Adam Daniels––a Satanist from Oklahoma City who is not affiliated with the Satanic Temple––announced that he would hold a black mass in September in the city’s civic center. This was met with a surge of petitions and protests from outraged Christians. Among conservative Catholics, a narrative had formed of how Catholics bravely defeated the Satanists behind the Harvard black mass. Some protesters seemed envious of the Catholics who marched on Massachusetts Avenue and appeared to regard Adams’s black mass as a second chance for glory.
Tensions continued to mount in Oklahoma City. When the Satanic Temple attempted to hold their black mass, Greaves explained the ritual would not involve a consecrated host because––as rationalists––they rejected the idea that a wafer could have supernatural properties. Daniels, however, claimed that he had mail-ordered consecrated hosts from a priest in Turkey to be desecrated in his ritual. This boast inspired Archbishop Paul Coakley to file a lawsuit against Daniels. A judge issued an order forbidding Daniels from harming the wafers. The wafers were eventually surrendered and the suit dropped. This arrangement stopped further discussion of whether the Catholic Church actually holds a legal claim to how its wafers are used.
Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin blamed The Satanic Temple for Daniels’s black mass, declaring, “It is shocking and disgusting that a group of New York ‘satanists’ would travel all the way to Oklahoma to peddle their filth here.” Greaves stated that Daniels was not acting responsibly and demanding that Fallin apologize for conflating the two groups.
September was a busy month. The Satanic Temple filed a Freedom of Information Act request and obtained a file of communications from citizens regarding their plan to erect a Baphomet statue on the grounds of the Oklahoma capital. Sadly, almost none of the angry writers or callers seemed to understand that the issue at stake was the establishment clause and whether any religious group should be able to have monuments on capital grounds.
In Detroit, The Satanic Temple opened a new chapterhouse headed by Jex Blackmore (Satanic pseudonyms help to curb death threats). Blackmore has been especially active in opposing Michigan’s informed consent law. More chapter houses are opening in San Antonio and other cities around the country.
The Detroit Free Press featured an interview with one Tom Raspotnik, an independent Satanist. Raspotnik described himself as a “tea party” Satanist who opposed the progressivism and atheism espoused by The Satanic Temple. He asserted that Satan is a real entity that he sacrifices goats to. Greaves has characterized Raspotnik as an attention-seeking contrarian.
In Orange County, Florida, the Satanic Temple responded to a judge’s ruling that Christian literature could be distributed in schools. They created the “Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities” so that students could receive both Christian and Satanic literature. The book features puzzles in which Damien and Annabelle explore the Satanic values of tolerance and compassion.
On September 21, Adam Daniels performed his black mass in Oklahoma City. In previous years, no one had attended his public black masses. But thanks to months of Satanic controversy, Daniels had an audience of 42. Meanwhile 1600 Catholics descended on Oklahoma City to protest. The following morning, Archbishop Coakley performed an exorcism at the Civic Center to dispel any evil conjured by Daniels’s ritual.
In October a man drove his car into the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument, smashing it to rubble. The individual turned out to be a mentally disturbed Christian who blamed the devil for his actions. The Satanic Temple released a statement condemning the destruction. Greaves stated that the Baphomet statue can only be erected as a complement to the Ten Commandments monument.
In Tallahassee, the Satanic Temple began petitioning to erect their holiday display in front of Florida’s state capital. In 2013, Florida allowed a nativity scene to be erected on capital grounds. This justified other religious groups in presenting holiday displays, which led to a Festivus Pole and an image of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Satanic Temple was the only group whose display was denied, on the grounds that it was “grossly offensive.” In 2014, The Satanic Temple began preparations months in advance to ensure any obstacles to their display could be resolved by Christmas.
In November, Adam Daniels announced that he no longer supported the Baphomet statue commissioned by the Satanic Temple. Like Peter Gilmore, Daniels implied that the statue was somehow harmful to children. He also took issue with the children’s books distributed in Florida and argued that one of the commandments from Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible is, “Do not harm little children.” One cannot help but wonder if the issue is really concern for children or an inability to share the Satanic spotlight.
As the holiday season approached, the Satanic Temple successfully erected their Christmas display in Florida. It featured a “Biblical image” of an angel falling into hell with the slogan “Happy Holidays from the Satanic Temple.” Temple spokesperson John Porgal explained he would prefer that no holiday displays were present at the capital.
Meanwhile, Jex Blackmore and her group erected their “Snaketivity scene” on the grounds of the Michigan capital. The display featured a serpent and the slogan, “The greatest gift is knowledge.” As in Florida, the Snaketivity was built in response to an announced Nativity scene. In a recent interview, film director John Waters explained he was a “big fan” of the Satanic Temple and their holiday campaigns.