For The Rest Of Us

[ Posted Wednesday, December 13th, 2023 – 17:23 UTC ]

Satanism has become a bone of contention in the Republican presidential primary. No, really! We're so far through the looking glass that you just can't make stuff like this up anymore, since reality provides an adequate diet of "sentences I thought I would never write."

It started with an modern annual tradition. In Iowa, the Satanic Temple successfully petitioned to erect their own holiday display in the statehouse, alongside the Christian and Jewish displays. They put up a mirror-bedecked goat's-headed statue, wearing a pentagram/wreath on his chest. Because, you know, the holidays!

This is all part of a multifaith effort -- or perhaps multi-"faith" effort might be more accurate -- of Americans who get annoyed each year that their government allows religious imagery on public property. Several spoof "faiths" have made this point over the years in various ways, and holiday displays have been a favorite (and festive) target.

In any case, back in Iowa, this caused the usual consternation among Republicans (which it is entirely and intentionally designed to spark). From the story, here's what the governor had to say about it all:

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds released this statement about the display on Tuesday: "Like many Iowans, I find the Satanic Temple's display in the Capitol absolutely objectionable. In a free society, the best response to objectionable speech is more speech, and I encourage all those of faith to join me today in praying over the Capitol and recognizing the nativity scene that will be on display -- the true reason for the season."

She got it exactly right, I have to say. She expresses her own objection to the display (and her own religious opinion, which really could have used a "my" in between "of" and "faith," but whatever...), but she also concludes that "in a free society" it must be allowed. There is a binary choice American government entities must make on the subject of allowing religion into the public square: they can either allow all religious displays and expressions, or they can allow no religious displays at all. Either way, the government must remain content-neutral -- they cannot pick and choose which religions are allowed and which aren't. These are the only two constitutional ways to address it: all, or none.

Iowa, of course, is the first state that will vote in next year's presidential primary season (at least, for Republicans). So the subject came up out on the campaign trail:

During a town hall event hosted by CNN on Tuesday evening, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was asked by host Jake Tapper whether the [Satanic Temple] display should be allowed to remain. Ultimately, DeSantis stated that, if a similar display were proposed for his state's Capitol, he'd have blocked it, taking the group to court if necessary.

He also tried to use the issue as a cudgel against his opponent in his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

"I heard this," he said of the display. "And then, I was like, 'Well how did it get there? Is that even a religion?' And lo and behold, the Trump administration gave them approval, to be under the IRS, as a religion. So, that gave them the legal ability to potentially do it."

That's a bit of masterful political jiu-jitsu there, you have to admit. He's essentially saying Donald Trump personally approved Satanism as a religion, therefore Trump is responsible for the holiday display.

But DeSantis has his own holiday headaches back home. Because Florida is home to a one-man crusade (to use a religious term for ironic reasons) against the practice of government-sponsored religion.

Chaz Stevens has been devoting himself to fighting religious encroachment in the public square for over a decade now. He's challenged public-meeting prayers (insisting he should be allowed to recite a Satanist prayer, if prayers are to be allowed), and he's even been allowed to deliver a few. Some Florida towns he challenged decided to get rid of the prayers altogether (rather than let him give one) and some (who went with "all are allowed" rather than "none") allowed him to deliver a Satanist prayer -- one of which, Wikipedia helpfully notes, was "accompanied by a blonde 'Twerking Deacon of Sin'."

Stevens has also directed his activism towards holiday displays in Florida. He started in 2012, when he successfully petitioned his home town to let him put up (next to the menorah and nativity scene) an 8-foot-tall aluminum "Festivus pole," made of used Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans. The following year, the town voted to ban all religious displays on its public property.

But that year Stevens aimed higher, and successfully petitioned to erect a 6-foot Festivus pole in the state capitol. Ever since, he's been an off-and-on activist -- including while Ron DeSantis has been governor. Here's what he did two years ago:

In November 2021, Stevens put up a "Fauci Claus" COVID-19-themed holiday display in the Florida capitol, featuring two cardboard cutouts. One was of Dr. Anthony Fauci, in charge of the national response to COVID-19 in his position as director of the national Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, dressed as Santa Claus, and holding a Festivus pole. The other was of conservative political commentator Tucker Carlson, known for COVID-19 misinformation and opposition to Fauci, dressed as the Grim Reaper, who also holds a Festivus pole though this one has a scythe blade on top as the Grim Reaper is traditionally depicted holding a scythe. This was placed as a religious display from Stevens's latest organization, "Mount Jab, Holy Church of the Vaccinated", of which he declared himself archbishop.

And that happened on DeSantis's watch. Dr. Fauci, a public servant whom DeSantis has demonized no end to further his own political career, was displayed as Santa Claus in the Florida statehouse. So much for his tough-guy stance on what he would and would not allow in a public holiday display, eh?

The whole issue is tailor-made to expose hypocrisy in Republicans on the subject of religion. They are fine with government allowing Christianity into the public square, and they'll even magnanimously allow Judaism as well. But they are also perfectly fine with blocking religious expression on public land by any and all religions (or "religions," in many cases) of which they do not approve. Wiccans, Pagans, Satanists, those who celebrate Festivus (for the rest of us!), the "Pastafarian" worshippers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster ("May you be touched by His Noodly Appendage!")... none of them should be allowed, according to most Republicans.

The Constitution, however, dictates that government cannot favor one religion over another. That would be officially "establishing" the religion, which the First Amendment forbids. Either all have to be allowed to celebrate (however they may) or none should be allowed. There is no picking and choosing religious content, at least not within constitutional boundaries.

So, yeah, maybe Ron DeSantis would pick a big courtroom fight over a Satanic Temple display in his state's capitol. But he'd lose that battle. Because the Bill Of Rights specifically prohibits the Christian nationalism that animates far too many Republican politicians these days. Which is what I'll be celebrating while watching the GOP candidates duke it out over Satanism.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


2 Comments on “For The Rest Of Us”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    All hail the purple sky goat

  2. [2] 
    andygaus wrote:

    Christianity is welcomed, Judaism is grudgingly allowed, as long as Islam doesn't get into the picture. Other religions are ignored and treated as not real religions.

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