— LUX INFERNI
During the long and arduous process of ratifying the Constitution of the United States in the late eighteenth century, a small group of white men found themselves divided on the topic of how much power would rest within the new federal government. Federalists argued that a strong central government was necessary to ensure the viability of trade and commerce, an amenable relationship between each and all of the states, and to protect foreign and domestic interests of the U.S., whereas Anti-Federalists were concerned that such centralized power would lead to the same situation that the American Revolution was fought to change (the tyranny of a centralized British government). Of course, Anti-Federalist concerns were more complex than that, and they chiefly involved anxieties over the threat of a strong central government bringing an end to slave labor in Southern states. Ultimately, however, the two sides reached a compromise that put into place both a strong federal government and a brief list of protections against that government’s overreach into the lives and autonomy of both individuals and each of the United States (https://billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/). 
The freedoms that are outlined and promised to be protected in the Bill of Rights are not arbitrary. Each of the rights that the drafters of the Constitution claimed to belong to all U.S. citizens were freedoms that, at one point or another, had been suppressed by the British during the colonial period. The first amendment alone covered six specific rights to not be abridged by the government: the freedom from religion, the freedom to religion, the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the freedom to assemble (or protest) peacefully, and the freedom to express discontent with the government. Of course, there was (and continues to be) grey areas with the exercise of each of these rights, and since the ratification of the Constitution in 1789, other laws and court decisions have been handed down to clarify to what extent an individual may claim to be acting within their rights in regard to several of them. But, ultimately, these freedoms are married to the same “unalienable rights” that the U.S. Declaration of Independence claimed to be endowed in every man (http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/document/). 
Of all the freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights, Satanists in the U.S. tend to be more familiar with the first three laid out in the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech” (https://billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/). They are our first thought when we see or hear about: public schools teaching the Christian bible or displaying the words “In God we trust” somewhere on school grounds; state or city governments approving the erection of monuments with the biblical ten commandments on state grounds; state laws that are rooted in religious prejudice and enacted to restrict abortion access or the exercise of rights by members of the LGBTQ community; or the refusal of city councils or county courts to allow Satanists (or Atheists or Wiccans or [insert some other non-Christian belief system here]) to give a public invocation.  No matter what reaction we have to our rights as Satanist citizens of the U.S. being steamrolled by overzealous Christian politicians, whether it be civil action, litigation, or burning down a church (please don’t burn down a fucking church), these freedoms and their guaranteed protection contain an underlying principle: Equality.
This essay will most likely piss you off in some way (no matter who you are), but what it says is important, and it does it in a complex way (so either wait until you finish reading the whole essay to say “this fucking guy doesn’t understand [insert something that you understand but I don’t]” or just stop reading now). This essay will explore things like the freedom of speech (both objectively and subjectively), the history of the U.S. (which is a history of racism and sexism, racist and sexist violence, racism and sexism, racist and sexist imperialism, and racism and sexism), Satanism (which is in no way homogeneous or doctrinal), and one way that all of these play into recent concerns, criticisms, and outright dissent exhibited by some of The Satanic Temple’s former chapters and individual members. But all of these explorations are merely steps leading to the overall point (so hang in there). Most importantly, this essay will challenge you to learn, to know, and to reason, to recognize that all things are complicated, and to never take a position based on a singular perspective.
II. THE FREEDOM TO SPEAK FREELY
The freedom of speech is a constitutionally protected right in the U.S., but for whom and for which types of speech this protection belongs to has always been a point of contention. It is often (and correctly) argued that the Bill of Rights set up protections exclusively for the rights of white men in a post-Revolutionary War U.S. This is because these fundamental (and “unalienable”) rights are closely tied to the concept of citizenship, and, as touched on in a previous essay, citizenship was initially reserved for white men. But just as the federal government placed certain restrictions on who could claim both the status and practice of citizenship in the U.S., it limited the extent to which an individual’s right to speak their mind was truly “free.”
People of color living in the U.S. certainly did not have the right to free speech until very recently. While some would argue that blacks living in the U.S. received this right along with the right of citizenship after the ratification of the fourteenth (and later fifteenth) amendment following the Civil War, this was not so in practice. In fact, and in direct contradiction to the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments, several cities, counties, and states in the U.S. passed their own laws that limited the extent that blacks could practice their newly granted citizenship—laws that remained in effect for almost a century. Some of these laws prohibited blacks from testifying in court against whites or from speaking at large assemblies, ultimately restricting their freedom of speech, among other rights.
Women were also victims of the founding fathers’ initial vision for the future of their nation (i.e. a pasty white sausage fest). Take for example the fact that women weren’t granted the right to vote in the U.S. until 1920. Consider also that several states retained coverture laws, which ultimately established that women were the property of their father or husband, until the twentieth century. Or perhaps take note that the wage disparity between working women and men in the U.S. is still a very real thing in 2018. While women were arguably able to exercise their right to free speech earlier on than people of color in this country, it was not without limitations directly related to the restrictions placed on their ability to practice their rights as citizens.
Even the initially intended beneficiaries of the rights of U.S. citizens have often found their freedoms restricted by the same institution that was sworn to protect them from such “abuses and usurpations.” The Sedition Act of 1798 was passed only a decade after the ratification of the Constitution, and it criminalized any speech “with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government” that could be alleged to have ultimately led to the intimidation of a government official by threat of “insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination” thereof (http://www.constitution.org/rf/sedition_1798.htm). In other words, it was illegal to talk shit about the same government which had originally declared that it should be legal to talk shit about the government. The law expired after two years, but similar laws have been enacted throughout U.S. history, especially during times of war.
The U.S. government has further impeded the full exercise of the right to free speech by excluding speech that is deemed obscene from constitutional protection. While obscenity has come to be defined and redefined several times since the late eighteenth century, having the most adverse effects on the distribution of communist “propaganda,” openly gay publications, and information about birth control during much of the twentieth century, the most recent test for determining whether or not any form of speech is constitutionally protected was developed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 (Miller v. California 413 U.S. 15 (1973), https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/413/15/). 
So, what makes this brief lesson in U.S. history any less useless than other ones? It should point out that, in theory, the freedom of speech is an expression of equality which, in practice, has only disparately been recognized and protected by the government. Despite the occasional prejudice exhibited by the government, your right to talk shit is embedded with a profound principle that is often referred to as “the golden rule.” We mostly recognize this principle in its Christianized form: “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12 NIV). But the golden rule comes in countless variations from other cultures, religions, and laws that span both centuries and the continents. Most importantly for this essay, however, it underlies the concept of liberty and its protection by the U.S. government: The freedom of speech is given to all (again, in theory) so that it cannot justifiably be taken away from the few (or more specifically, the rich, white framers of the constitution).
This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, “block” a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the President of the United States. The answer to both questions is no.
We reject the defendants’ contentions that the First Amendment does not apply in this case and that the President’s personal First Amendment interests supersede those of plaintiffs.
[N]o government official—including the President—is above the law, and all government officials are presumed to follow the law as has been declared (Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, et al. v. Donald J. Trump, et al. 17 Civ. 5205 (S.D.N.Y. 2018), https://knightcolumbia.org/sites/default/files/content/Cases/Wikimedia/2018.05.23%20Order%20on%20motions%20for%20summary%20judgment.pdf).
IV. THE FREEDOM TO OFFEND AND THE FREEDOM TO TAKE OFFENSE
There has been some dissent within The Satanic Temple over the past month. My intention in addressing it here is not to take sides or to try and simplify an obviously complex and subjectively felt situation. I don’t intend to lay blame or to say that any side has committed wrong against another or to provide some philosophical bridge for the gaping divide(s) that has developed. And I most certainly am not going to sit here on the other side of your computer screen and tell you how you should feel about the situation. My intention is rather to approach it rationally and see it as both a learning experience (for me) and an opportunity to further clarify exactly what my Satanism is (again, for me). If you read this and find it to be a learning experience (for you) and an opportunity to further clarify what your Satanism is (again, for you), then that’s great—even if you come to a different conclusion. On the other hand, if you read this and find it a waste of time or a reason to not like the things I say (or even a reason to not like me? Have we met?), then that’s also great. One of my goals for this essay—to have you learn, know, and reason—will still have been met.
On August 4 the Los Angeles chapter of The Satanic Temple announced on Facebook that it was withdrawing from the national organization because of “the unilateral decision by Executive Ministries to expend resources pursuing [a religious discrimination claim against Twitter] … [and] their choice to retain the law firm of Marc Randazza as counsel” (https://www.facebook.com/thesataniccollective/posts/1044750589029676). The former chapter, now named The Satanic Collective, went on to detail their grievance with TST’s choice in legal representation, stating that Randazza was “a Twitter troll and an agent of the alt-right,” and that TST was essentially “partnering with bigots and Nazi sympathizers and justifying that with inapposite and white supremacist appeals to free speech.” TSC also objected to what they described as “the complete lack of racial diversity within leadership,” a point seconded in an open letter on Medium by former Executive Ministry member and TST-Detroit chapter head Jex Blackmore two days after TSC’s announcement (https://medium.com/@JexBlackmore/the-struggle-for-justice-is-ongoing-6df38f8893db). In explaining why she had left TST months before, Blackmore argued that a proposal for the “implementation of a gender, sexual, and racial diversity policy to ensure equity within TST leadership and alignment to the mission” was “completely dismissed.” She also stood behind TSC’s main grievance with TST, claiming that the legal battle with Twitter was “absurd” and an example of the organization’s “recklessness” (You can find TST spokesperson and co-founder Lucien Greaves’ response to TSC, Blackmore, and others here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/down-spiral-of-20599936; and you can find more details about the situation (with opposing biases) here: https://jezebel.com/the-satanic-temple-is-engulfed-in-a-civil-war-over-a-de-1828130997 and here: http://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2018/08/09/the-satanic-temple-isnt-wrong-to-use-free-speech-lawyer-with-neo-nazi-clients/#FxRdMg116bBajaFw.99).
Lines were immediately drawn within TST’s membership, with some individuals following suit in raising their concerns and rescinding their memberships (one example can be found here: https://medium.com/@emmastory/why-im-leaving-the-satanic-temple-528bbc06432b) and, more recently, with TST-Portland (now Satanic Portland) joining in the defection and saying in a Facebook post that the Executive Ministry was “failing in their responsibility to their membership” through their working association with Randazza (https://www.facebook.com/satanicportland/). Tempers flared, insults were flung, and Facebook group moderators were (and still are?) on high alert. It was a shit show. Ultimately, however, the recent dissension of now former members and chapters of TST is rooted in something other than (but still related to) the choice of legal counsel in the Twitter claim and the argument for more diversity in the organization’s leadership.
The underlying cause for the recent defections from TST was clearer in Blackmore’s open letter and Satanic Portland’s announcement than it was in TSC’s declaration of independence, but it resonates just the same in each. The individuals and chapters withdrawing from TST felt that there was a lack of accountability in the organization’s leadership, or at least an inequitable amount considering that, in the words of TSC, there was a “continued and increasing encroachment and overreach by National Council and Executive Ministries in regard to our artistic and political expression, both as individuals and a chapter, even while we are asked to give blanket endorsement to their artistic and political decisions.”
This larger grievance is understandable. We are Satanists and we don’t like being told what to do. Furthermore, and more subjectively, we all have the right (yes, the literal right) to voice our concerns and take action if and when we feel that our interests, opinions, and positionality are not being served or recognized within the community in which we find a sense of belonging. I can only imagine that this sentiment is felt even more strongly by people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, and all those that find themselves in the spaces and intersections in between, having been marginalized for so long (and still to this day) outside of TST. I want to be clear that my point here is not to claim that TST leadership played a conscious or unconscious part in marginalizing the organization’s dissenters, but I feel compelled to recognize that the individuals and the chapters that defected felt marginalized, and as a result they decided to speak their minds and take action. And that’s fine. That’s their right.
I also want to be clear (if I haven’t been already) that weighing in on these recent events is not the purpose of this essay.
The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own (https://thesatanictemple.com/pages/tenets).
VI.VI.VI. THE FREEDOM TO PUNCH A NAZI
How do the freedom of speech and the golden rule factor into Satanism today? Considering that there are so many different approaches to how Satanism is thought about and practiced by its adherents, and that such differences can even be found within a single Satanic tradition or group (since Satanism is such an individualistic religion), the answer to this question depends on who you ask. It is a popular contention among many U.S. citizens today, especially among social justice oriented Satanists, that there are certain members of society who should be denied the same freedom of speech that the Bill of Rights claims to belong to all citizens.
Ever since Donald Trump announced his campaign for the presidency a few years ago, the United States has seen a rise in the organized public propagation of racism, anti-LGBTQ and non-Christian views, and white nationalism. Such groups as the Ku Klux Klan, Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, and various factions of neo-Nazis have all ascended to a level of notoriety that has become a cause of concern for many people. And rightly so. Such organization on the part of the “alt-right” has led to many examples of organized resistance across the country, and in most cases, the numbers on the side of the latter’s cause have dwarfed those of the former’s (one example can be found here: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/anti-hate-protesters-far-outnumber-white-supremacists-as-groups-rally-near-white-house/ar-BBLOXUf?ocid=spartanntp). Despite the laudable amount of unity within the larger movement to resist hate and archaic notions of white supremacy in the U.S., there has been much debate about the exact form that such resistance should take. It’s a matter of principle.
The purpose of this essay is to weigh in on the debate about whether or not the freedom of speech should be denied to those who publicly profess the views of the alt-right. In short, my opinion is that it should not. That is not to say that I disagree with resisting such speech. On the contrary, I believe such views should be resisted at any platform on which they rear their ugly face. But suppression is not resistance. Nor is it a principle of Satanism.
The issue at hand with the alt-right is not the people who espouse such hateful ideas, but rather, it is the ideas which they espouse and which inspire them to raise their voices and take action. History has shown us that ideas do not simply go away when they are suppressed as if they were a pile of dirt on the living room floor that you cover with a rug. Instead, they creep out from beneath it, grain by grain, and, gathering followers along the way, spread to the corners, doorways, and windowsills until they can no longer be ignored. Ideas are only effectively resisted by opposing ideas. This may be an unpopular proposition, and I understand. It’s easier to suppress the speech that you don’t want to hear—the speech that you don’t want anyone else to hear—than to actively work against it from of a position of equitability, rationality, and dialectics. Despite the work involved, this is the beauty of the freedom of speech. Moreover, this is a principle of my Satanism.
As a Satanist, it is not my position to suppress others or their ideas which I disagree with. I don’t go around burning down churches (please don’t burn down a fucking church). My similitude with Lucifer as the bringer of light and knowledge instead compels me to resist ideas that I deem wrong by bringing forth other ideas, opposing ideas, ideas rooted in reason and the belief that we are all equal (even racist and homophobic pieces of shit) and that, in the United States, we all have a right to speak freely (TST defectors and their critics included).
Am I saying that you shouldn’t punch a Nazi? No. I’m saying that my position (which, if you’re asking this question, hasn’t yet been made clear) is you can do whatever the fuck you want to. But it’s also my position that punching a Nazi doesn’t actually do anything to counter the fact that a person (the Nazi) has aligned themselves with ideas that are contrary to the betterment of society as a whole. It only strengthens their espousal to those ideas, much like suppressing their freedom of speech does.
I want to conclude with this: There’s nothing more Satanic than thinking about the world, its peoples and their ideas and taking the frustratingly and chaotically complex beauty of it all for what it is.
- Extensions of this compromise, if not separate compromises altogether, were used to placate Southerners’ concerns about the “peculiar institution” of slavery.
- I am speaking in the terms denoted by the framers here, and not suggesting that only men have rights.
- The Satanic Temple has taken up the gauntlet in fighting against instances of theocratic overreach in U.S. society over the past few years, and examples can be found here: https://thesatanictemple.com/pages/campaigns.
- This court decision set a three-prong standard, or “The Miller Test” for judging that a form of expression was obscene by the affirmative answers to three general questions: Is it lascivious by community standards? Is it offensive in a sexual or excretory way that violates state law? Does it lack literary, artistic, political, or scientific value?