Destroying a Satanic Display Goes Against America’s Founding Principles
Liberal, secular democracies cannot afford to accommodate extremists’ notions of heresy or blasphemy if they want to remain liberal, secular democracies.
On Thursday, December 14, a display belonging to the Satanic Temple of Iowa, which had been erected in the state capitol, was torn down by former military man, congressional candidate and Christian, Michael Cassidy. The goat-headed figure was decapitated and damaged beyond repair. The Satanic Temple, which does not believe in a literal Satan but uses the fallen angel as a symbol of resistance against unjust authority, had successfully applied to have their own display featured in the building alongside others, including a nativity scene.
Defenses of Mr Cassidy’s actions, including his own justifications, have centered around three claims.
Satanism, as advocated by the Satanic Temple, is not a real religion, and so does not qualify for religious protections. Consequently, the statue had no right to be in the Capitol in the first place.
The erection of the statue was not a sincere expression of faith, but a spiteful trolling exercise purely intended to distress Christians. It was a display of prejudice against Christians and targeted harassment of them.
Satanism is, by Christian definition, evil, and Christians have no responsibility to tolerate evil. God’s law takes precedent over the laws of mankind, including the constitution.
These first two arguments can be countered by looking at the ethos of The Satanic Temple which states them as “free will, humanism and anti-authoritarianism” and by the stated purpose of the Baphomet statue:
The claim that Satanism is not a real religion misses two key points. Firstly, freedom of religion includes the right to criticise religion and religious authoritarianism, and organisations for this purpose should therefore be protected as much as pro-religious organisations. Secondly, in a secular society, there is no justification for prioritising deeply held religious beliefs over deeply held non-religious beliefs. While Mr. Cassidy genuinely believes he is standing up for his religious values, it’s unclear why values like religious freedom, pluralism, free will, humanism, anti-authoritarianism, bodily autonomy, acknowledgment of human fallibility, and noble thought and action shouldn’t be equally recognised, even if they aren’t religious in nature.