Since 2012, a monument dedicated to the Ten Commandments has sat outside the Capitol building in Oklahoma City, dedicated by state representative (and ordained deacon) Mike Ritze. Last summer the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of several Oklahomans who wanted it removed, having deemed it unconstitutional. “When the government literally puts one faith on a pedestal,” the ACLU asserted in a press release, “it sends a strong message to Oklahomans of other faiths that they are less than equal.”
But rather than remove the monument, one could complement it with artifacts that honor other religions. This, in any case, is the thinking of the Satanic Temple, a group that hopes the Oklahoma Capitol building will soon be the home for their own representative monument. The newly-organized religious group, formed about a year ago, began an Indiegogo campaign last month with the intent to “complement and contrast the Ten Commandments monument that already resides on the North side of the building.”
A couple of days ago, they unveiled their design:
The image is of Baphomet, a goat idol connected to Satanism, sitting in a chair and flanked by two children on either side. The creature’s prominence as a symbolic figure dates to at least the 12th century, when the Christian crusaders known as the Knight’s Templar were accused of worshipping Baphomet.
Wanting to know more about the idea behind the design and the reasoning behind the statue, I spoke with the Satanic Temple’s co-founder and spokesperson, Lucien Greaves. Greaves emphasized that the design is intended to be “kid-friendly.” He initially had the idea of having a four-legged goat with a saddle that children would “ride,” but the images “began to appear silly in artistic renderings.” The final design was collectively agreed upon as a structure “both children and adults can enjoy.”
The Satanic Temple, not surprisingly, has faced considerable criticism. In the wake of their formal request for the monument (as well as requests from others, including a Hindu group), the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission has placed a moratorium on further applications pending a ruling on the ACLU lawsuit. Greaves doesn’t think this affects his campaign, though, since the Satanic Temple applied prior to the moratorium.
Greaves believes that the Ten Commandments statue provides “an open door” for his group and others to display their own monuments. And while many have argued that no religion at all should be represented on the Capitol grounds, Greaves believes that it’s better to have a “multiplicity of voices than to just have one.”
This goes along with the guiding values of the Satanic Temple, which includes, as Greaves explains, “rejecting arbitrary authority.” The Temple is wholly unaffiliated with the Church of Satan (the head of the latter group disapproves of the proposed Satanic monument), and its mission statement emphasizes “empathy among all people” and the undertaking of “noble pursuits guided by our individual wills.”
Greaves is confident that his opponents, which include Oklahoma lawmakers, don’t have much of an argument against his group. Their reasoning, Greaves says, has changed multiple times. At one point they argued that the Ten Commandments represents a historical document, rather than a religious one—to which Greaves counters that the statue of Baphomet itself serves as a historically themed monument that can “commemorate the history of being an out-group.” Now, he notes, people are challenging the religious status of the Satanic Temple: Oklahoma representative Earle Sears told the AP, “I do not see Satanism as a religion, and they have no place at the state Capitol.”
Greaves says that, while he’d prefer not to, he’s prepared to seek legal assistance. “We would have never pushed to have our monument at the state Capitol if the Ten Commandments weren’t there.” And if the commandments are removed, he says, the Satanic Temple will give up the quest to erect their accompanying monument:
“If the [Ten] Commandments are adjudged to be in violation of the establishment clause [of the First Amendment], or monuments—ALL monuments—are otherwise deemed to have no place on the state property, we would surely have no basis to push for our monument to be erected. That said, we intend our monument to complement and contrast the [Ten] Commandments, and we do not wish to erect our monument anywhere it would stand alone. To do so would undermine our message of religious freedom and plurality.”