The Satanic Temple’s “Religious Reproductive Rights” campaign will expand to more states this fall. But contrary to the recent speculations of some, The Satanic Temple will continue to fail in its efforts to use religious liberty to strike down state laws regulating abortion, as it failed with its initial foray in Missouri, because of the group’s poor understanding of laws protecting religious freedom.
Anti-religious confusion and misdirection abound with The Satanic Temple. The group does not worship a personal Satan. Instead, it advocates atheistic, anti-supernatural rationalism that exalts the self with its saying, “Thyself is Thy Master.” The group misleadingly uses Satanic terminology and symbols to scare and confuse others about its anti-religion agenda.
The group’s legal efforts show its contempt for religion by advancing causes intended to shrink First Amendment freedoms that protect everyone. The Satanic Temple has promoted after-school Satan clubs, placed goat demon statues in government spaces with Ten Commandments monuments, and engaged in other such antics to frighten officials into eliminating these expressive forums in order to silence the voices of religious believers.
The group’s abortion-related campaigns based on religious liberty are equally disingenuous and flawed. The Satanic Temple explains that the “Satanic abortion ritual” does not require women to get abortions but “sanctifies the abortion process by instilling confidence and protecting bodily rights.” Part of its abortion ritual involves the woman reciting the “Personal Affirmation”: “By my body, my blood, By my will it is done.”
The Satanic Temple claims to feel so strongly about the sacredness of this abortion ritual that it is conducting a raffle to raise money for its legal efforts, with the winner receiving up to $2,500 toward her abortion. Buying a raffle ticket also allows one to vote for the state in which the group will next work to challenge abortion regulations.
Why the Missouri Lawsuit Failed
Fortunately, the first foray of the group’s legal strategy in Missouri has utterly failed. The Missouri lawsuits involved a female member of The Satanic Temple who challenged two Missouri laws in federal and state courts.
One of the laws requires women seeking abortions to be given the opportunity to read a pamphlet about possible health risks from undergoing an abortion and scientific information about fetal development. The other law requires a 72-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion. The woman argued that the laws violated the Establishment Clause and the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Both the Missouri Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit rejected The Satanic Temple’s extreme Establishment Clause argument that these laws are unconstitutional because they coincide with pro-life Roman Catholic theology. That reasoning would wipe out many laws that also happen to coincide with Catholic doctrine, such as laws against theft and murder, and government programs giving aid to the poor.
If a court ruled in favor of The Satanic Temple’s position, that ruling would also violate the Establishment Clause because it would place The Satanic Temple’s religious dogma into law. Such an expansive interpretation of the Establishment Clause would make governing and legislating impossible.
As to the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Satanists said they believe abortion is a holy rite, so laws hindering their “religious” practice must be struck down. But RFRA laws do not grant automatic exemptions from laws merely because someone says, “My religion requires me to do something different.” A modern-day Aztec could not justify homicide by claiming he was making a human sacrifice to Quetzalcoatl. If a state RFRA actually operated as an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card, the most popular “church” in town would be the one preaching, “Paying taxes is sinful!”
A state RFRA is a defense one can raise against a government command, but it does not guarantee that the religious believer will win an exemption from that law. RFRA laws, such as Missouri’s law, usually have a four-part test that filters the strong religious liberty claims from weak and frivolous ones.
The believer must show (1) sincere beliefs rooted in religion that (2) the government’s requirement substantially burdens; then (3) the government must show it has a compelling interest that (4) it furthers by the least restrictive means possible. The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously rejected The Satanic Temple’s religious liberty challenges to the informed consent law and 72-hour waiting period requirement.
Satanic Temple Legal Efforts Are Deeply Unserious
At the first step, one can reasonably doubt whether The Satanic Temple has sincere beliefs about abortion that are rooted in religion. Its past actions show repeated mocking and trolling of religious beliefs. It looks more like the group is invoking religion to promote abortion by using state religious freedom laws to “own” religious pro-lifers.
Next, Missouri’s laws don’t substantially burden a Satanist’s beliefs because they don’t stop her from getting an abortion. The law did not require her to read the state’s pamphlet, and she still could get an abortion after the waiting period. These commonsense regulations don’t amount to a substantial burden on her religion; she simply disagrees with the law.
Under the third and fourth RFRA factors, the state must show it has a compelling state interest in the specific legal requirements, implemented by the least restrictive means. Here, Missouri has a strong interest in making sure people undergoing significant medical procedures know all the relevant facts and have sufficient opportunity to reflect upon what they have learned in order to consent with an informed understanding of what will happen to them and the risks. Offering women the information and giving them time to consider the information is the least restrictive means to accomplish that goal.
It is difficult to take the pro-abortion advocacy of The Satanic Temple seriously because of its long history of disdaining religious believers with sloppily conceived, publicity-seeking campaigns and lawsuits meant to disrupt and diminish religious liberty protections for all. If the group really wants to advance its religious beliefs, it needs to work seriously within the legal protections that all Americans enjoy.
Perverting constitutional and statutory freedoms because of policy disagreements is wrongheaded, short-sighted, and disrespectful to fellow citizens. May the courts continue to reject these dangerous efforts.