Current debates pit LGBT activism against the religious freedom of conservative Christians, who often wish to opt out of endorsing same-sex marriage, refusing to lend their artistic talents to celebrate a gay wedding. Yet the Satanic Temple once planned to legalize gay marriage using religious freedom.
In July, the Satanic Temple released Hail Satan?, a documentary about the secularist group that portrays itself as a religious entity. In the documentary, co-founder Lucien Greaves says the Satanic Temple is more than half made up of LGBT people who feel disowned and disenfranchised by “traditional religious institutions,” and he pledges that the Temple will fight “to the death” for the gay community. He also reveals the religious freedom argument the Temple plotted to use to make gay marriage legal.
“It would be a conservative estimate to say that more than 50 per cent of our membership is LGBTQ,” Greaves, who identifies as straight, says in the documentary, according to the British gay magazine Attitude. “I think that’s because they feel disowned and disenfranchised from the traditional religious institutions.”
“So, you have a population willing to embrace a religious identification that is boldly willing to speak out to the contrary,” Greaves adds.
Yet the Satanic Temple is hardly truly religious. It is better described as a secularist group that uses satanic imagery to push French Enlightenment views in the name of religion and pokes fun at religion. When the Temple launched “After School Satan” in 2016, Greaves, using the pseudonym Doug Mesner, explained that “Satan” is a “metaphorical construct” intended to represent a rejection of tyranny.
The documentary’s own cover art mocks the Temple’s religious facade, featuring the Statue of Liberty altered into a statue of Satan. The question mark in the film’s name also highlights the fact that Satanic Temple members are not really worshiping Satan.
“The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will,” the Temple’s “About us” page reads.
Satanism does not represent a pro-LGBT religion but a pro-LGBT interest group masquerading as a religion. That said, Satanists do enjoy the same conscience rights and religious freedom as other Americans. These rights do not override the rights of others, however.
The group did gain steam by championing LGBT issues, featuring a Satanic “Pink Mass.” In the documentary, Greaves frames the issue not as one of tolerance but as one of not caring about how people live their lives.
“Within the Satanic Temple, we’re all pretty much one and the same. We’re all Satanists and it’s not like we have ‘tolerance; for trans people or gay people or sex workers, we just don’t f**king care, and a lot of people in those communities appreciate that,” Greaves says. Yet the Satanic Temple has long been involved in Pride parades.
In this context, Greaves reveals a truly fascinating bit of Satanic Temple history. Before the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) struck down laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman and made same-sex marriage legal across the U.S., the Temple considered a legal tactic to make same-sex marriage legal on its own, using religious freedom.
“One of the earlier things we wanted to do before the Supreme Court ruled in favour of gay marriage in the US was to test rights versus religious liberty in states that were refusing to allow equal marriage,” the Satanic Temple co-founder said. “We were going to do this by holding a satanic gay wedding in any one of these states and, if the state refused to recognise it, we’d sue on the grounds that it was our religious liberty to have it recognised. We never got to do that.”
In other words, the Temple was planning to force states to legalize gay marriage by arguing that not doing so constitutes religious discrimination against Satanists who consider themselves married in a satanic gay wedding. Would this not involve forcing the state to recognize a religious view, something secularists usually oppose as a violation of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment?
Yet the Temple also opposes the religious freedom and free speech rights of wedding professionals to opt out of making custom cakes, taking photos, or making floral arrangements to celebrate same-sex weddings. In fact, when the issue was before the Supreme Court in the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Temple claimed that it could force a Christian baker to bake a Satan cake, because refusing would involve religious discrimination.
The Satanic Temple was willing to use religious freedom to advance same-sex marriage, but not to allow religious professionals to opt out of endorsing same-sex weddings.
“We will fight them to the death to ensure that there are equal rights for the gay community,” Greaves adds.
Yes, it seems the Satanic Temple values LGBT activism more than religious freedom, and is willing to use religious freedom as a tool to advance that activism. After all, the Temple’s religiosity is itself a tool to push its secularist agenda.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.