The religious right spouts freedom and liberty at every turn. Yet in practice, their idea of “liberty” is often driven by tyrannical instincts. John Stuart Mill offers a test that can be applied to see through this type of masquerade:
“Liberty lies in the rights of that person whose views you find most odious.”
The Satanic Temple (TST) serves as the perfect example of how the religious right fails Mill’s test. Obviously the religious right finds The Satanic Temple to be “odious.” To pass the test presented by Mill, they should nonetheless stand up for the Temple’s right to express their views. Yet the religious right becomes completely unhinged, advocating the utmost violent government crackdown, any pretense about liberty.
The Satanists are a legally-registered religious organization. Since the government can’t give preferential treatment to one religion, TST legally must be afforded the same access to public spaces as any other religion. This fact enables the Satanist group to highlight all the ways that Christian groups have in practice been given preferential treatment by the state.
If there is a prayer session preceding council meetings in a city, then The Satanic Temple asks to also be given the opportunity for an invocation to their (only metaphorical) Dark Lord.
If the Ten Commandments is raised in front of the state’s senate grounds, then they want to have a symbol of their faith right next to it, which happens to be an 8.5-foot figure of goat-headed Baphomet with two children at his feet and a stunning Iggy Pop torso.
If Christians decide to display a nativity scene, they offer a Christmas ornament of their own, a sculpture depicting a hand extending the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with an engraved description: “Knowledge is the greatest gift.”
These efforts by TST have been quite successful. Reason Magazine rightly dubbed them the “unlikely defenders of the First Amendment.” They have also succeeded in showing the hypocrisy of the religious right in terms of their supposed allegiance to free speech. Rather than accepting that The Satanic Temple has every legal right to display their religious symbols in public places, Christians have been calling on the state to violently remove Satanic symbols from the public square.
No Freedom of Speech for those I want to censor
And this is not just some nutpicking fallacy at work. Major presidential candidates and the utmost prominent conservative intellectuals advocate crackdowns on constitutionally protected rights.
The proud defenders of freedom such as the Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles and Ben Shapiro are quick to forget about it and proclaim that “Satan has no rights.” Of course, neither Satan nor God as non-existent imaginary beings do not have any rights. But that’s not what Michael Knowles means. Within that sentence, he captures his support for stripping Satanists (real, non-imaginary human beings) of their freedom to and from religion. In one particularly scathing rant, Knowles said, “I am not suggesting that we burn the Satanists at the stake … necessarily [laughs].” We can only imagine what he means by “necessarily.”
Ramming Religious Freedom Down Our Throats
Fortunately, Mill’s principle is deeply embedded in American institutions, and little can be done by Christian nationalists other than slow down the Satanists through legal proceedings. Courts and government officials do everything to make the legal costs too exorbitant for TST to pursue a particular case. The practical reality of equal access is that it is given to Satanists only after they set aflame thousands of dollars on attorneys for stuff that should be graciously extended to them at mere request.
This ultimately results in religions with all the money and power getting their way. Consider the Supreme Court’s decision to allow religious organizations to fly their flags on a state-owned pole is not a win for religious freedom. It is a dangerous opportunity for squandering religious pluralism by the pushiest religion. After the ruling came down, The Satanic Temple immediately announced filing a request for access to the flagpole, which of course got ignored. Guess which religion ended up having a flag displayed?