Does Freedom of Religion Mean Satanic Displays in State Capitols?

In the Illinois Capitol Rotunda this month, several traditions are being celebrated.  We find a nativity scene for Christmas; a menorah for Hanukkah; and, alongside these displays, an arm holding an apple, with a snake coiled around it.  This snake sculpture is a gift from the Chicago branch of The Satanic Temple.  Called "Snaketivity," the work also has a sign that reads, "Knowledge Is The Greatest Gift."

This revolting travesty is a result of decades of decisions pertaining to the non-establishment of religion asserted in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  If a group of people incorporates as a non-for-profit religious organization to worship Medusa with her head covered with snakes, would those people be allowed to have a sculpture of Medusa in the Illinois Capitol?  Looking at her would turn one to stone.  Looking at Snaketivity turns this writer to stone-faced silence and outrage.

Next to these displays is a statement to the effect that "[t]he State of Illinois is required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to allow temporary, public displays in the state capitol[.] ... Because the first floor of the Capitol Rotunda is a public place, state officials cannot legally censor the content of speech or displays.  The United States Supreme Court has held that public officials may legally impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions regarding displays and speeches, but no regulation can be based on the content of the speech."  So, we ask, why did they not impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions?

While speech must be allowed, speech must not necessarily be allowed wherever the speaker wants the speech.  There are rules where public events may be held, and said laws must be consistent with the public order and user-appropriate.  Lata Nott, an expert on free speech, has stated, "If you invite someone to speak on your campus and are a public university, you have to respect their First Amendment rights[.] ... That doesn't mean you can't put regulations on a speech, like dictating the time, place, venue and suggestions for subject matter.  It just means you can't do so in a way that discriminates against a certain point of view."

With this point in mind, it seems strange that no Christian or Jewish organization challenged the State Government of Illinois for allowing this complete mockery of the First Amendment.  It seems certain that the American Center for Law and Justice or the Rutherford Institute or Liberty Counsel would have taken up this fight. 

Hanukkah and Christmas have been celebrated in December for many hundreds of years.  Other religions do not have December events that are this significant, and especially the Satanic Temple, which is not even celebrating an event lifted up in the tenets, practices, or texts of its beliefs.  Therefore, the requirement that its "snake" be displayed alongside a menorah or a creche is wholly bogus.

The word "religion" comes from the Latin word ligare: to join or link, classically understood to mean the linking of human and divine.  There is no linking of the human and divine for the Satanic Temple.  There is no divine or supernatural appeal for the Satanic Temple.  Instead, in its "Canon," "Satan" is declared a "theological metaphor" for free inquiry.  When they say, "Hail Satan," they state that they are in effect hailing a metaphor, not a supernatural person.  Ironically, born-again Christians would understand that they are hailing a supernatural being, albeit one defeated by Christ and eternally defeated.  We understand that they are denying the very one they are praising.

In Satanists' "Seven Fundamental Tenets," there is not one reference to any supernatural being or to the promulgation of evil.  Rather, true to the biblical definition of Satan as someone who comes (masquerades) as an "angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14), their tenets name their raison d'être as fighting for justice, having control over one's body (a not so veiled support for abortion), compassion, empathy, reasonableness, conforming with science (climate change acceptance implied), and some tepid thoughts about doing one's best even though we make mistakes.  Their tenets finish with a call to the Stoic ideal of "nobility in action and thought."

These platitudes are pap from the lips of the Deceiver.  He is such a deceiver that he does not even claim to be ruler of "principalities and powers" (Ephesians 6:12), but takes a modest backseat as he proclaims himself just another secular humanist.

By failing to constrain the so-called "free speech" of the Satanists, the State of Illinois has increased the likelihood that the American Atheists will have displays alongside Christian and Jewish displays even though, as this article is suggesting, they do not have a legitimate claim to be a religious organization or to offer time-honored celebrations that are as historically significant as those of Christians and Jews.

The battle goes on and must go on.  It is a battle that must continue to be waged in courts and in the public arena.  It is a battle between the spirit of truth of Elijah and the wicked, impotent spirit of the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-40).  We must remain alert to areas where the fight has not been waged and follow up.

This writer will send a copy of this article to all three great legal organizations mentioned and encourages the reader to do likewise.