The state of Oklahoma opened the door, and in walked Satan. And the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can call them “poison pills”; you can call them satire, but they make a perfectly valid legal point.
After placing a monument to the Ten Commandments outside its capitol building, the state is now besieged by requests to place other religious monuments alongside the Christian one. More mainstream faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism have done so, but groups that is making the most waves is the New York based Satanic Temple.
Just like the Ten Commandments statue, the Satanic one is funded by private donors. Outwardly quite peaceful looking but clearly meant to push the buttons on the Christian community, the statue depicts Satan as a seated Baphomet, lovingly accepting smiling children at his knees. Replace the horned figure with Santa Claus or a religious prophet (and remove the inverted pentagram), and no one would bat an eye.
Everyone involved knows that the Temple has no real expectations for getting this monument erected. The Temple has already been denied a holiday display inside Florida’s capitol building. Florida tried to stay legal, allowing the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and even a Festivus Pole (from the Church of Seinfeld?) access to its holiday display. But no holiday Satan. They just couldn’t follow constitutional law all the way to its logical conclusion: everybody or nobody.
These challenges are just going to come more often. States that continue violate the constitution by placing religious displays on public grounds are just going to keep getting challenged. Plus, they are going to waste taxpayer money and state resources fighting legal battles to keep their illegal monuments, and they’re just going to lose. I can guarantee you that no one will place a Pastafarian statue or a Satanic one on state grounds. Their only choice will be to spend even more taxpayer money to remove the Ten Commandments.
I wonder if there is a fear of open competition in the marketplace of ideas. The Ten Commandments include some pretty good ideas that should be remembered by politicians. Certainly killing, stealing, and bearing false witness are good things to legally prohibit. Avoiding adultery and coveting the possessions of others while honoring your parents seem like honorable behaviors, although I’m not so sure about legislating them.
It’s where you get to the rest that you get in trouble. No one is ever going to be able to make a law prohibiting other forms of worship in this country, nor will they prohibit working on Sundays. We tried that before. It was called Puritanism. It sucked. People died.
Now, on the other hand, imagine if legislators dedicated themselves to these rules:
1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
4. 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.
5. Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
6. 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.
7. 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.
If these rules were proclaimed by a great leader rather than a group dedicated to Satan, most people would rally to their support. Is this competition between ideas the real source of fear for those who continue to try to place religious monuments?
I hope not, because that’s also a losing battle. By placing one religious monument on public property, you are always going to invite others in. That brings them attention. Very few people had heard of the Temple of Satan before this, but now they are all over the Internet. The same with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You call attention to your enemy’s ideas.
In the end, religious displays simply don’t belong on public land. Religion is a private matter between you and your gods. It is something to be taught in homes and churches, not courthouses or capitols. Legal institutions must remain bound to that pledge we still say in our schools: “Liberty and justice for ALL.”