Satanists seize Christian Right’s redefined religious freedom bills and run
It will be no small irony if Satanists turn out to be heroes of religious freedom in our time.
Christian Right leaders, who claim that it is a violation of their religious freedom to extend a variety of civil rights—including marriage equality to LGBTQ people — are not victims of creeping secularism (as they would have us believe). But their unleashing of the notion that religious individuals, nonprofits, and business owners are entitled to exemptions from the law may have some remarkably unintended consequences — and groups including some Satanists are capitalizing on the Christian Right’s own false framework.
These conservative religious leaders’ attempt to advance a religious supremacist political agenda under the rubric of religious freedom was bound to get tangled up in contradictions.
Since the Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, the notion of religious exemptions has sadly gained currency in several state legislatures. But the Boston-based Satanic Temple, which claims to be both serious about Satanism as well as satire (the group has chapters in several states, and says it does not believe in supernaturalism and has nothing to do with the evil figure depicted in some Christian traditions), wants to show that if that door of religious exemptions is to be opened, conservative Christians are not the only ones who are going to walk through it and claim exemptions from the law for religious reasons.
Satanic Temple members in Missouri are claiming that the state-mandated 72 hour waiting period prior to receiving an abortion, to borrow from the language of Hobby Lobby, places a “substantial burden” on the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of a Satanic Temple member going by the pseudonym “Mary.”
This is part of an effort by the Temple aimed at leveling the religious liberty playing field which has been thrown off-balance by right-wing leaders seeking to contain LGBTQ equality advances.
The group notes that over the past few decades, some states have enacted a variety of bills intended to make it more difficult and expensive to obtain and to provide abortions.
The Guttmacher Institute reports that hundreds of these have been enacted in some two dozen states since 2010. Many impose medically unnecessary waiting periods ranging from 24 to 72 hours.The Satanic Temple observed that “Those who define the issue in terms of personal choice typically find their views marginalized as being outside of the realm of religious protection.
While religio-conservative views seek to undermine abortion rights, they have also steadily worked to define ‘religious liberty’ to be understood in terms of reserving the right to deny contraceptives and oppose rational family planning practices. We intend to show that religious liberty can also protect and promote these legal practices.”
“Mary” lives in rural Missouri and needed an abortion, but could not afford the extra expenses that the state’s 72-hour waiting period would have imposed on her. She could afford to pay for the abortion itself, but not the estimated additional $800 for the gas, hotel, and child care that she would have needed to travel to St. Louis.
“I personally would have liked to have the procedure done as soon as possible,” Mary told the Riverfront Times. “But with all the difficulties, how hard it is do this, it’s been put off for several weeks.” At the time of this report, she was nearly 12 weeks pregnant.
Mary ultimately raised the money she needed to cover her expenses—after the quasi-satiric Satanic Temple drafted a letter to Mary’s abortion provider, claiming a religious exemption to the waiting period.
“As you know,” Mary wrote to her abortion provider, “state law requires a waiting period after I first receive counseling before I can undergo an abortion. I regard a waiting period as a state sanctioned attempt to discourage abortion by instilling an unnecessary burden as part of the process to obtain this legal medical procedure. The waiting period interferes with the inviolability of my body and thereby imposes an unwanted and substantial burden on my sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Abortion providers are not in a position to grant religious exemptions to state law, and the letter did not get Mary an exemption — but the point was made. And it is a point that raises questions about the nature of the right of individual conscience, and roles of powerful religious institutions.
If the Christian Right’s redefinition of religious freedom continues to be enacted into law, those exemptions from civil liberties laws won’t just apply to their particular brand of Christianity.
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