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Friday, May 16, 2014

Satan in Oklahoma, Prayers in the Supreme Court: All Hell Breaks Loose

Oklahoma Statehouse
Some interesting things are coming together at the same time.  In Oklahoma there’s a push to erect a monument to Satan which would be erected right next to a display of the Ten Commandments on the State Capital grounds.  The latter was placed there in 2012, a donation from one of the legislators, and it immediately birthed a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union demanding it be removed because putting up the Ten Commandments violated the Constitution’s restriction against favoring one religion over another.  Ah, but is Satanism a real religion?  Apparently so, according to Wikipedia, and, indeed, a Satanist already won a Supreme Court case back in 2005 allowing him to practice his religion while in prison. 

If you’re shocked by the idea of a statue to Satan on public property, wait until you see the statue itself.  Here is a photo:

The Satanists are having the statue built in New York and also taking the precaution of making a mold so that it can be easily duplicated in the (likely) event the original is damaged by vandals. 

The Ten Commandments now on the Oklahoma
Statehouse grounds has some spelling issues.

If you’re still shocked, ask yourself if there’s any difference between erecting the Ten Commandments and the statue of Satan.  If your answer is that one is traditional and one not, know that the Constitution has no such escape clause: governments simply can’t favor one religion over another, not even old ones over new ones.  What they can (and should) do is stay out of the religion business entirely.  Take down the Ten Commandments and the Satanists would have to find another venue for their statue (say, for example, the Texas Statehouse lawn, which also has the Ten Commandments on display).

Jonathan Smith has written an amusing account of the whole incident, along with photos; see

Outside the U. S. Supreme Court

But wait, didn’t the United States Supreme Court just allow Christian prayers at the start of town meetings?  Yes, it did (shamefully), in a case called Town of Greece, New York. v. Galloway, handed down a week or so ago.  The Court (five conservatives in favor, four liberals dissenting) held that such prayers are allowed as long as the town is willing to let others lead opening prayers if they wish, including (gasp!) atheists, but noted that the small town involved mostly has only Christians churches in the local community.  The lawsuit was brought by a Jew and an atheist, who objected to being forced into the awkward position of enduring such prayers just as they were appearing before the town council hoping to persuade it to grant some petition or other they were urging.  What should they do during such prayers?  Bow their heads?  Join in?  Stand defiantly with heads erect (and how sympathetic would that make the town council to their subsequent pleas?).  Here is a sample of an actual prayer at a Greece town meeting (taken from the Record of the case):

Lord, God of all creation,.... We acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We draw strength ... from his resurrection at Easter. Jesus Christ, who took away the sins of the world, destroyed our death, through his dying and in his rising, he has restored our life. Blessed are you, who has raised up the Lord Jesus, you who will raise us, in our turn, and put us by His side.... Amen.

How would a Jew feel if forced to stand through such a prayer?  How about an atheist?  When I was heavily involved in gay rights in Columbus, Ohio, thirty years ago we had a Columbus City Council meeting in which the council was going to vote on whether to grant employment protection regardless of sexual orientation.  The issue was very contentious and the council chambers (and the balcony) were packed to the rafters, with about 2/3 of those present being churchgoers trucked in by bus from a small nearby city, and the other 1/3 supporters of the ordinance.  The chaplain began the meeting with a very long prayer that at one point said something like, “Preserve us, Our Lord God, from the godless hoards who would impose their evil ways on the good citizens of Columbus, and pervert our laws with sin.”  When he was done, Craig Covey, the President of Stonewall Columbus muttered to me, “I want to do a rebuttal to the prayer.”  One wonders whether the Supreme Court would have approved that sort of religious message at the start of a meeting addressing a thorny issue like this one.

Will Satanists now be allowed to offer a prayer at public meetings in Greece, New York?  Surely the answer is yes, although that will rankle as many citizens as will the satanic statue going up in Oklahoma.  [I should note that as an atheist I don’t believe in Satan any more than I do God, and would object to either being allowed a place in public deliberations.  My point is that atheists are definitely not Satanists.]

These issues won’t go away and will cause hell to break loose until the Court finally comes to the only sensible conclusion: the First Amendment’s Freedom of Religion means that the government must stay out of picking and choosing which religion to sponsor, and leave that up to the people themselves.
Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011

1 comment:

  1. Yeah I live in Oklahoma and my family was angry about the ten commandments, we laugh at the Satan statue though because we can't wait to see these evangelical's faces (my household is atheist and agnostic).