Religious pluralism and the Baphomet monument

Cara Schulz —  July 7, 2015 — 24 Comments

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma – In late June, the Oklahoma State Capitol monument of Ten Commandments was declared unconstitutional and would have to be removed. This came after several years of public controversy and pressure from numerous religious freedom groups. One of these groups is the The Satanic Temple, who has recently funded and completed a large statue of Baphomet specifically to sit alongside the Oklahoma Ten Commandments. Now that the monument has been ordered down, the question on everyone’s mind is, “What will The Satanic Temple (TST) do with Baphomet?”

Ten Commandments Monument by Texas State Capitol, identical to the Oklahoma monument. [Photo Credit: Kevin via Wikimedia]

Ten Commandments installed at Texas State Capitol, identical to the Oklahoma monument. [Photo Credit: Kevyn via Wikimedia]

Lucien Greaves, spokesperson for TST told The Wild Hunt:

Given the Court’s ruling, TST no longer has any interest in pursuing placement of the Baphomet monument on Oklahoma’s Capitol grounds.The entire point of our effort was to offer a monument that would complement and contrast the 10 Commandments, reaffirming that we live in a nation that respects plurality, a nation that refuses to allow a single viewpoint to co-opt the power and authority of government institutions. This is the very essence of our explicitly secular Constitution. Any one religious monument on public grounds is intolerable. However, once one is allowed, it is orders of magnitude better that many should be represented, rather than a single voice claim unique privilege.

Greaves also noted that his organization’s efforts to erect the “Baphomet’ monument alongside the 10 Commandments … was soon credited by many as being instrumental in the Court’s decision.” He said, “After all, it could not have been lost on the presiding judges that a ruling in favor of the 10 Commandments would necessitate their consideration of a suit in favor of Baphomet, and any rationale preserving the 10 Commandments could also be leveraged in TST’s favor.”

The court’s decision came on June 30 and stated that the Ten Commandments monument must be removed from the Capitol in Oklahoma City because it violates the state Constitution. In a 7-2 decision, the justices said the privately funded monument violated Article 2, Section 5 of the state’s Constitution.

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

The Ten Commandments monument was funded by state lawmaker Mike Ritze (R) and was installed at the capitol in 2012. Then in 2014, it was destroyed by a man who crashed his car into the 6 ft high stone monument, saying “Satan told him to do it.” It was promptly replaced by Rep. Ritze.

However, by that point, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had already filed suit asking that the monument be removed on grounds that the “the monument stands alone, with no other monuments or memorials in the immediate vicinity.” The ACLU also objected to the specifically Judeo-Christian religious nature of the stone Ten Commandments tablet.

At the same time, TST started crowdfunding to create a 7ft high bronze statue of Baphomet to be placed at the state capitol next to the Ten Commandments monument. The organization said that adding the statue of Baphomet would show religious pluralism and address the ACLU’s concerns. As noted in the IndieGoGo campaign:

By accepting our offer, the good people of Oklahoma City will have the opportunity to show that they espouse the basic freedoms spelled out in the Constitution. We imagine that the ACLU will also embrace such a response. Allowing us to donate a monument would show that the Oklahoma City Council does not discriminate, and both the religious and non-religious should be happy with such an outcome. Our mission is to bring people together by finding common sentiments that create solutions that everyone can appreciate and enjoy.

The crowdfunding project attracted 1,041 donors and raised $28,180 in one month.

The Satanic Temple, a non-profit religious group headquartered in New York, has a history of working for religious pluralism, women’s reproductive rights, and ending child abuse.

TEMPLE-OF-SATAN-unfinished-statue-of-Baphomet-May-9-2014

[Courtesy of The Satanic Temple]

In 2014, the organization unveiled a full size template of the proposed statue showing Baphomet sitting on a pentagram throne with two children looking up at him. TST planned to donate the completed statue to Oklahoma’s Capitol Preservation Commission for display upon Oklahoma City’s capitol grounds next to the Ten Commandments monument. However, the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission had placed a moratorium on any requests to donate art to the capitol pending the resolution of the ACLU lawsuit.

The finished statue “weighs one ton and [towers] nearly nine feet tall.” It is scheduled to be unveiled at Berts Warehouse Entertainment in Detroit, Michigan on July 25. Because the statue was destined for the Oklahoma state grounds, this unveiling event was considered to be “a call-to-arms from which [The Satanic Temple would] kick off [its] largest fight to date in the name of individual rights to free exercise against self-serving theocrats.”

Now that the court has ruled that the Ten Commandments must be removed, Baphomet’s future is uncertain. Greaves said, “Unfortunately, our insistence that Baphomet only be displayed to complement and contrast a pre-existing public monument of religious signification doesn’t limit our options nearly enough … there are plenty of areas in the United States crying out for a counter-balance to existing graven tributes to archaic Abrahamic barbarism. Arkansas is looking rather appealing.” Greaves is referring to a newly signed law allowing for the placement of a privately-funded Ten Commandments monument on the Arkansas’ state capitol grounds.

As for the Baphomet statue, it is now being protested by members of Detroit’s religious community ahead of the upcoming unveiling. Change Agent Consortium (CAC), a faith-based community organization whose mission is to engage “people in our democracy to improve food access, better job skills and the economic development of citizens,” is organizing these protests.

“I am horrified by The Satanic Temple’s decision to unveil their ‘Baphomet’ in Detroit. They are a satirical group that attempts to mock religion and destroy the fabric of sincere religious belief and the value of true religious expression,” said Change Agent Consortium leader David Bullock. The group says the statue is not good for Detroit and plans to host a prayer protest on the day the statue is presented to the public.

As for the Ten Commandments monument, Oklahoma lawmakers have said the battle isn’t yet over. They plan to amend the state constitution to remove the section of Article 2, Section V that prohibits the use of public property for religious purposes.

While the fight in Oklahoma is not completely over, Greaves said, “Hopefully, when all is said and done, TST will have helped to awaken within a generally lackadaisical public rightful disgust towards public officials — like Pruitt and Rapert — who so mindlessly and shamelessly pursue these infuriatingly unconstitutional undertakings at the expense of taxpayer dollars.The people of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and the world over, deserve better than to suffer politicians who fail to comprehend the very premise of their public duty: the duty to uphold an environment of viewpoint neutrality and plurality, where all people — whether Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Muslim, Satanist, or any ‘other’ — can enjoy equal protection under the law, with preference for, and bigotry against, none.”

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • Merlyn7

    Well played, Satanists.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I have this image of the spirit of Baphomet strolling the land, squelching Ten Commandments monuments as the consciousness is raised of each jurisdiction falling under His gaze. I think TST should do with the physical statue exactly what they are doing: holding it in reserve. keeping that stroll in play.

  • Deborah Bender

    It is worth reading the linked news article about the legislative effort to remove the section of the Oklahoma state constitution that the court cited in its ruling. The article lays out the religious right’s argument that antiestablishment clauses of this type discriminate against all religions, not just their particular form of Christianity. I don’t think that argument holds water, but it’s clever, and we need to be familiar with it in order to counter it.

    • Jason Hatter

      They do discriminate against all religions. That’s how they should work, elsewise, they’re favoring one, or a few….or against only a few.

  • Interesting how it is the followers of Satan who are turning out to be the champions of true religious freedom while the self-professed followers of Christ are the ones advocating for religious tyranny and domination.

    • MadGastronomer

      They’re not really “followers of” Satan. If you read the site, they’re basically humanist, holding up Satan’s rebellion as a positive example, making them more or less humanist Luciferians.

      I mean, I’m in favor of their efforts, and I like them, but I dislike people casting TST as a theistic Satanic organization.

      • Northern_Light_27

        I don’t think they did? As much as I often correct people’s descriptions of Satanism as “basically just atheism” because that erases Theistic Satanists, I feel like I’m starting to see almost as many that erase atheistic Satanists’ Satanism. They’re still followers of Satan, regardless of whether Satan is literal being or beloved symbol. I don’t think you think of them as “just gimmick atheists”, but a *lot* of people do, and it bugs me that the “Satan” part of “Satanist” seems to stop mattering as much if the bearer of the word is an atheist.

    • Deborah Bender

      I don’t see a strong indication in the Gospels that Jesus favored any particular position on the relationship between religious institutions and government. It wasn’t at the top of the list of things that concerned him. Issues of religious freedom in the modern sense of the phrase didn’t arise until three centuries after Jesus’ death.

      • kenofken

        True, but institutional Christianity has, since Constantine, sought to crush religious freedom.

    • Wolfsbane

      Not that interesting nor surprising. It’s about what you’d expect from Christians.

  • Deborah Bender

    I’ve wondered why the groups that insist that their religious symbols, and only theirs, be exhibited on government land usually seem surprised when their opponents demand the same right (or privilege, depending on your reading of the Constitution). It’s not a brand new tactic.

    Some of it is due to closed mindedness, since refusing hear or read anything from people who disagree with you keeps you ignorant. Zealotry of any kind will do that.

    However, I think Christian fundamentalists of the aggressive sort have a specific problem; their ideology says that there is only one true religion, theirs. All those other religions aren’t real religions, therefore people who profess belief in them are superstitious, haven’t been evangelized yet, or are dupes of Satan. Trying to put yourself mentally in the place of a believer in a false religion, even for a moment, would be unacceptably dangerous, because it would make you vulnerable to being deceived by Satan yourself. This sort of evangelical Christian not only isn’t encouraged to develop empathy or appreciation for the other person’s point of view, he has been warned against it.

    So when devotees of other religions behave like religious people, and demand respect and lebensraum for their own religions, it takes the fundamentalists by surprise. It’s not just that they don’t believe those religions deserve any rights; they have trouble seeing them as religions at all.

  • NoBodE

    They need to hold on to the statue. Our State legislators are working on amending our State constitution to allow the ten commandments monument and the Governor has announced that the monument is going to stay where it is.

    • NoBodE

      In short, we need everyone to demand equal space for statues on the grounds at the capital.This is the bible belt and they are not going down without a fight.

    • Deborah Bender

      It will be interesting to see how that plays out. There will be considerable opposition to amending the state constitution, and not all of it from liberals. Knowing what a red state Oklahoma is, I’d expect a majority in both houses in favor of the amendment, but if it requires a supermajority, they might not be able to get that.

      • kenofken

        When lawmakers call for a constitutional amendment, they’re basically admitting “we’re screwed on this issue, but I’m going to make a really serious-looking symbolic stand on it.”

        • Deborah Bender

          I agree, but it’s much better when there is also explicit separation language in the state constitution, because that makes it harder for the pro-establishment faction to cast the issue as us God-fearing folk against the godless Federal Gummint. It cheers me that the people who wrote the Oklahoma state constitution (not all that long ago) believed deeply enough in the separation of church and state to include that clause. They thought it was important enough to spell out their intentions in considerable detail, in case anyone wanted to argue about the meaning of the Bill of Rights and its applicability to the Sooner State. Those thumpers have to recognize that the revered pioneers who homesteaded over the very last piece of Indian territory really, really, really did not want a monument to the Ten Commandments on the statehouse lawn.

          • kenofken

            The dominionists like to spin church/state separation as something invented by modern atheists. In fact, the cause was pioneered in large measure by Baptists and other denominations who had suffered legal discrimination for being the “wrong” sort of Christians. The Founders also lived within a few generations of the time when Europe became a slaughterhouse over politicized religion. They knew that no good at all could come of government endorsement of one religion over others.

          • Deborah Bender

            Well said.

          • There was also the massive shot in the arm that abolitionists gave for the separation of church and state.

  • Northern_Light_27

    I love these guys. Think I’ll actually join this time, I really appreciate their take on Satanism.

  • zormpas

    Excellent!

  • Wolfsbane

    I must strenuously object to the use of the term Judeo-Christian in this piece and many others written here on the Wild Hunt.. It is highly disrespectful to people of the Jewish faith to lump them in with Christians. Judaism is a nice inoffensive organic tribal religion that is respectful of the religious beliefs of others and does not seek to recruit nor force it’s belief system on anyone else unlike Christianity, whose history is long and bloody, doing those very horrific acts on a global scale for many centuries.

    There’s no reason we as Pagans should be disrespecting and belittling of the Jewish people and the Jewish faith by constantly using the hateful and disrespectful term, Judeo-Christian. In my opinion, it borders on anti-Semitism to even utter or write that term. It’s time we as Pagans take the initiative and stop using it altogether.
    People of Jewish extraction and practitioners of Judaism have as long a history as we Pagans of suffering horrific violence and discrimination at the hands of Christians and Christianity as we have had to endure. It’s high time we strive to demonstrate that we as Pagans have far more in common with Judaism and the Jewish people than they do with Christianity. Choosing not to use insulting words that constantly link them with their oppressors in writings and the language used by Pagans is a great place to start doing this.

  • James Riley

    What about now that Oklahoma is refusing to take it down?