In the running battle over the separation of church and state, it seems we have entered an era where one particular side has seized the offensive. For the past few decades, the battle has mostly centered on whether monuments to the Ten Commandments are allowable on public (government) property, with rather mixed results in the courts. Some monuments have been allowed to remain, some have been removed. But the fight has always been fought pretty much from a single perspective. This is now changing, due to some well-organized attempts to mount legal challenges from the other side of the debate. And since the debate has now gotten a lot more interesting, I'd like to toss my own immodest idea into the arena, in the hopes that someone or some group decides it is worthy.
The news item that got me thinking was the release of a sketch of a proposed statue for the Oklahoma statehouse grounds (which already have a Ten Commandments monument). The statue is about as provocative as can be, since it depicts a rather benign, goat-faced, fully-winged Satan sitting with small children in attendance. After all, if religious displays are allowed, why shouldn't the Church of Satan be given the same equal treatment as Christianity? Legally, there is no reason not to make room for them.
While this is (quite obviously) going to be controversial in Oklahoma (the court case should be fascinating to follow), this isn't the first group to stand up for their rights in the face of court decisions that have allowed Ten Commandments monuments on public property. An atheist group successfully erected their own monument in Florida recently (complete with inscribed quotations from Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin), choosing a much-less-controversial route to making the same basic civil rights point -- if one group is allowed in, then all groups should be allowed the same equality of access.
Other more temporary victories have been won recently, most of which appeared alongside Christmas displays on public property (such as displays honoring the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and one notable Festivus pole made out of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans, which was also erected in Florida this holiday season). Also in the news this week was the first-ever Pastafarian officeholder sworn in while wearing his colander headgear, also in tribute to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Fair is fair, after all -- if government permits allowances for religious displays, then it must do so without discrimination. It is core to the First Amendment, after all.
Which is where my idea could enter the fun. Because, after all, if we're going to exercise our First Amendment rights, why just take them for a short a walk around the block? Why not take them out for a real run? Rather than using the intentionally-offensive imagery of Satan to make a legal point, why not use imagery that more folks might actually support?
In short, if I had the time, money, and energy to propose a statehouse monument somewhere (where a Ten Commandments display already exists), what I would propose is a honkin' big statue to honor the god of Venus. Create a "Temple of Venus" group and sue to erect a gigantic statue of a beautiful nude female, arising from the waves! Hey, I warned you this was going to be an immodest proposal, right up front.
A statue of Venus could check off many boxes in the First Amendment litany, in the court case which would undoubtedly ensue. Religious? Check. Worshipping Venus (or Aphrodite, if you prefer) is older than Christianity, by far. Historic? Absolutely -- harkens back to ancient Greece and Rome. Artistic? Oh, you betcha. What is the most famous statue in Western art, after all? The Venus de Milo. The legal and artistic arguments are clear, and quite easy to make.
While the sketch of the proposed Oklahoma Satanist statue is amusing and controversial, it was meant to provoke and offend a certain segment of the population. But it lacks gaining support from any but the most committed of those fighting for the church/state separation. It does not lend itself to the casual supporter, the way that (for instance) the beer-can Festivus pole does.
A giant statue of a nude female, on the other hand, would open up an entirely different kind of debate. Contests could be held for the best (and most provocative) designs for such a statue. While it likely wouldn't convert many to worshipping Venus, it certainly does lend itself to a certain amount of prurient appeal to a certain segment of the population, does it not? One can imagine the casual "A giant nekkid woman at the statehouse? Sounds good to me!" type of support quite easily, in fact.
What with the Pastafarians, the Festivus celebrants, the atheists, and now even the Satanists all fighting (and sometimes even winning) legal battles of late, it indeed seems almost inevitable that sooner or later the idea of Venusian statues will be championed by someone. Maybe Larry Flynt could fund the effort, or something -- he's a big fan of the First Amendment, right?
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant