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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Jeffrey L. Falick

CAN SATANISTS SAVE SEPARATION OF CHURCH & STATE?!

Back in 2022, Arthur and I spent a wonderful couple of summer weeks in Massachusetts. We loved Boston and all the places on Cape Cod. The whale watching trip exceeded our expectations. But perhaps the most educational site we visited was Salem, where we made a pilgrimage to the headquarters of the Satanic Temple.


Yes, you read that correctly. Before you start worrying about me, please read on!


The Satanic Temple—not to be confused with the Church of Satan—is actually a secular and humanistic group organized and recognized under federal tax law as a religion. In fact, its members do not believe in anything supernatural, including Old Scratch. For them, the character of Satan is "...a symbol of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty even in the face of insurmountable odds."


Their list of beliefs could be framed on the walls of our temple. It includes these statements:


• We believe in reason, empathy, and the pursuit of knowledge....


• One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.


• Beliefs should conform to one's best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one's beliefs.


• People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one's best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.


Why am I telling you about them?


Because aside from their use of Satanic imagery to represent rebellion, they are us. The Satanic Temple is in every way secular and humanistic, committed to the absolute separation of religion and state.


It's actually a bit surprising that they are recognized as a religion. (In many ways, it's actually a bit surprising that Humanistic Judaism is recognized as one, too!) Most people believe a religion must include deities or other supernatural intelligences.


That Humanistic Judaism was recognized as a religion probably owes more to the word "Judaism" than anything else. That the Satanic Temple received the same recognition testifies to our nation's best commitment to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It reminds us that there are, indeed, federal judges who have accepted the Jeffersonian interpretation of separation that today's Christian Nationalists are working hard to banish from our country.


Take Florida, for instance.


It is just the most recent state to pass legislation allowing chaplains in public schools to replace licensed mental health counselors. Taking advantage of the paucity of counseling available to school children, such new laws are yet another attempt to bring the wall of separation crashing down.


And here's where our friends at the Satanic Temple come in. When they heard about the new law, they quickly volunteered their services to Florida schools. In an email to the Tallahassee Democrat, their director of ministry wrote:


Any opportunity that exists for ministers or chaplains in the public sector must not discriminate based on religious affiliation....


Our ministers look forward to participating in opportunities to do good in the community, including the opportunities created by this bill, right alongside the clergy of other religions.


They should not be underestimated. About ten years ago, the Orange County, Florida school board authorized the distribution of Bibles and religious pamphlets in schools, only to discover that this opened the door to distributing "The Satanic Children's Big Book of Activities," a primer about the separation of church and state and the beliefs of secular humanism.


Gov. Ron DeSantis has already been warned that the Satanic Temple stands ready to send its clergy to serve as chaplains. He's not having it:


Some have said that if you do a school chaplain program, somehow you’re going to have Satanists running around in all our schools. We’re not playing those games in Florida. That is not a religion. That is not qualified to be able to participate in this. So, we’re going to be using common sense when it comes to this. You don’t have to worry about it.


If the Satanic Temple is not a religion, then neither is Humanistic Judaism.


Because aside from the use of the satanic metaphor (which they heavily and repeatedly emphasize in all of their literature is a metaphor for rebellion), our core religious beliefs are identical to theirs.


It is, of course, Gov. DeSantis who is playing games with the intent of the U.S. Constitution. In the current political climate of Michigan, I doubt we will join the Satanists in offering up chaplains, but should this atrocious perversion of freedom from religion ever come to our schools, perhaps I'll apply for one of the positions.


My old blog was called "The Atheist Rabbi." The governor would love that. I'm sure it's still somewhere out there on the internet.


A picture of me during our 2022 visit to the Satanic Temple's headquarters in Salem, MA. Being very science-oriented all visitors were still required to mask up. The statue—consistently labeled as a fictional character representing rebellion—is named "Baphomet." The group got a nice cash infusion when Netflix violated copyright law by using it without permission in its television series, "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," later settling amicably.

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