Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lansing Michigan Satanic Temple Holiday Display

I am not religious. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state. I am also however a big believer in the right of the individual to make a stand based on his or her sincerely held moral, ethical or religious beliefs. Sometimes, these tenets can conflict. What is right or good is not immediately apparent. In the past few decades though what has been apparent is that some devoutly religious Christian people feel that there is a "war on Christmas" or that they are losing ground in American culture. This has provoked a backlash in which some Christians seek to leverage their majority status to place a Christian imprimatur on government and/or secular functions. The classic examples of this are attempts to make Christianity the official religion of a state or the entire country, Christian prayers at legislative sessions, which the Supreme Court upheld (wrongly imo) and the never ending battles over holiday nativity scenes at government buildings. When challenged over the last, people supportive of such scenes often ask those opposed what's the big deal, advise them to quit being so sensitive and suggest that they have a nice warm steaming cup of STFU. Well.
I am not among those who are outraged by nativity scenes but I definitely sympathize with those who are. And once you open the gates to allowing religious displays on government property, well then you need to understand that it's an all or nothing type of rule. The people in Lansing, Michigan, our capital, are learning that this holiday season as the Satanic Temple (Detroit Chapter) is moving ahead with plans to place its own holiday display on the Capitol lawn. The Satanic display was originally planned in response to a Christian nativity scene but the Christians were apparently lacking in organizational skills and so far have not finalized plans to get their nativity scene in place.

 I guess the Satanists were a bit more motivated. Being in the minority or being the underdog can certainly tend to make someone work a little bit harder. Until the Satanists announced their plans the only Christians who were working seriously on a nativity scene were from out of state.

The group, which describes itself as a collective of “Satanists, secularists and advocates for individual liberty," has received permission to put up a display on the north Capitol lawn from December 21 to 23.

"We would prefer that no religious iconography was displayed on Capitol grounds or on state grounds for that matter," said Jex Blackmore, founder and head of the Detroit chapter. "But if there was going to be a singular voice represented, we felt it was best to add to that representation of diversity here in Michigan."

John Truscott, a member of the Michigan State Capitol Commission, confirmed that The Satanic Temple has been granted approval for the temporary outdoor display.

"We are restricted by the Constitution and bound by the Constitution to recognize their First Amendment rights," said Truscott. "We don’t have the ability to reject them if they meet the guidelines of the Capitol."

But on a personal level, Truscott said he thinks it is "absolutely disgusting to hijack a Christian holiday," and he expressed hope that the public will "just completely ignore these negative forces."

Blackmore said that Satanists do not worship Satan as some might think but rather seek to separate superstition from religious beliefs and advocate individual liberty, rationalism and human knowledge. She said that is the reason that their display will be a "snaketivity" scene featuring a snake granting a book of knowledge. Blackmore's point is that the greatest gift is knowledge. People being who they are, once the news got out that the Satanists, of all people, would be placing a display on Capitol grounds, every politician and their mama ran to the nearest microphone to denounce the Satanists as evil, talk about how much they loved Jesus, and promised to ensure that a Christian nativity scene actually was erected. This last didn't seem to bother Blackmore as she said that the snaketivity scene would actually work better in conjunction with Christian iconography. But she did say that "If our Legislature finds it morally incomprehensible to respect the diversity of differences among Michigan citizens, then perhaps they are much better served as members of the clergy rather than representatives of the people." I can't disagree with that in this context. I certainly understand how some devout Christians might find the display of Satanic iconography offensive but just about every religion by definition has a bone to pick with someone else's religious claims. It's baked into the cake. People can try to paper this over by saying well, as long as we're all Christian we should have no issues, or as long as we're all followers of Abrahamic religions we're all good or as long as you're not an atheist I have no issues with you but the bloody history of inter and intra-religious conflict shows otherwise. The fact that a Christian finds Satanism offensive is irrelevant to whether a Satanist should have the same rights as anyone else to put up displays on public property. I would prefer no religious displays on public property but if we're going to allow it, we have to allow it for everyone. And the same logic applies to Christians who want to use religious beliefs to avoid or ignore certain secular laws. They should remember that everyone else also will get that same right. 

What do you think?
Does Blackmore have a point?
You're Queen or King for the Winter. Do you allow this Satanic holiday display?
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