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I co-founded The Satanic Temple. After the arson attack on our HQ, I want to clarify what we stand for

While the Temple has active, local congregations worldwide, we are best known for efforts to litigate in defense of our equal religious rights in the United States — including “after-school Satan clubs” and rallies for reproductive freedom

Lucien Greaves
Tuesday 14 June 2022 16:09 BST
(AFP via Getty Images)

Last Friday night, June 10th, The Satanic Temple’s religious headquarters in Salem, MA was set ablaze by an arsonist wearing a t-shirt with the word “GOD” printed in bold across the front. The perpetrator was arrested even as the flames were being doused by firefighters, having wandered around the block and back in an attempt to watch the destruction as it unfolded. Security camera footage had, at that point, already been shown to law enforcement, helping them to identify the arsonist at the scene.

Due to the swift response, damage was isolated to the front door and porch, and we are grateful it was not worse. Nonetheless, the occupants who were inside the Temple at the time are understandably shaken. According to the subsequent police report, the arsonist, Daniel Lucey, characterized his own actions as a “hate crime,” explaining that he had traveled from Boston to Salem specifically to light the fire because “they’re devil-worshippers. They worship Satan,” and that “means they need to be wiped out.”

From these statements alone, it is clear that the perpetrator has no idea who The Satanic Temple are or what we do. I am the co-founder of and spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, and, as I have explained over the course of our 10-year history, we are not “devil-worshippers.” In fact, we are non-theistic. Satanists in The Satanic Temple take a non-supernaturalist view of the world, turning to science as an arbiter of truth claims. To us, Satan is a literary metaphor for rebellion against tyranny, and the symbols and rituals of Satanism – as well as our central tenets that sanctify personal sovereignty, reason, and compassion – give context and meaning to our worldwide community, now numbering over 700,000 registered members.

While the Temple has active, local congregations worldwide, we are best known for efforts to litigate in defense of our equal religious rights in the United States, where religious freedom is enshrined in the Constitution but religious equality is nonetheless increasingly brazenly opposed by evangelical theocrats in our government. As America faces the potential overturning of Roe v Wade, The Satanic Temple fights back to assert religious protections for our reproductive rights through lawsuits and campaigns that claim religious exemption for our members from such laws. Where state governments have seen fit to allow privately donated Ten Commandments monuments on public grounds, we have tested their dedication to pluralism and viewpoint neutrality by offering a Satanic monument to be placed nearby. Where proselytizing biblical fundamentalist after-school clubs have been established in public education facilities, The Satanic Temple has offered an alternative after-school Satan club that works toward honing critical thinking and scientific exploration.

While these Temple activities — and countless others that are designed to protect and uphold true religious liberty for believers and non-believers alike — are often viewed by the media as a “stunt” or a “prank”, we believe that the stakes are high; no less than our fundamental freedoms.

The Satanic Temple holds a reproductive freedom rally in Salt Lake City, Utah
The Satanic Temple holds a reproductive freedom rally in Salt Lake City, Utah (Enrique Limón)

In Salem, we have received the warm embrace of the local community, which came out immediately in large numbers offering their condolences and volunteering their help as we worked to clear up the aftermath of this arson attack. Salem’s Mayor, Kimberly Driscoll, immediately and unambiguously condemned the attack. The attack on our headquarters has had the paradoxical effect of making us feel more welcome than ever in our community.

And this is how it should be in a democratic, pluralistic society that respects freedom of conscience – not only as a legal term, but as an internalized, principled value. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you believe, if you are not harming others. We can disagree on a variety of issues, but when we are in trouble, we help one another out, and nobody wants to see anybody suffer for holding to a different point of view.

It is, perhaps, no coincidence that the perpetrator traveled to Salem from Boston, a city we are suing because the city council denied us equal access to a public forum for religious speakers.

We have always had conspiracy theorists and religious zealots, but if we are going to protect ourselves against further hateful attacks, it is my belief that we need to focus on bringing viewpoint neutrality back to the courts and demanding it of our elected officials. We need people to understand that when judges brazenly dismiss The Satanic Temple’s claims on spurious grounds, they are investing themselves with undue authority.

When politicians openly denigrate us and deny our basic civil liberties, they create an environment in which we are understood to be an unwanted outsider. The inevitable outcome is that this emboldens those who feel they might reap glory for acting violently against us, as was the case with the extremist who set The Satanic Temple’s headquarters on fire.

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