Sunday, February 21, 2016

Are the rights of the religious minorities in jeopardy?

In 2013, in Oklahoma, an organization called the Satanic Temple asked for the settlement of a statue of Baphomet, next to a Ten Commandments monument that was located on the state capitol’s ground. Following this proposition, there was a massive wave of protestations against the Baphomet statue, which eventually forced the state authorities to wonder about the constitutionality of the Ten Commandments monument itself. After a long judicial struggle, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments monument was unconstitutional indeed. Thus the state, according to the same process of thought, had no reason to accept the statue of Baphomet.

Of course, the legitimacy of the Satanic Temple as a religious group was one of the most controversial elements of this case. There are several parameters to be taken in account to decide weather or not this was a legitimate source of concern. On its website, the organization explains that it does not recognize Satan as a supreme being, but that “the metaphorical Satanic construct is no more arbitrary to [them] than are the deeply held beliefs that [they] actively advocate for.” The organization thus seems to fit into the official definition of religion operative in the United States: “The Supreme Court has interpreted religion to mean a sincere and meaningful belief that occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to the place held by God in the lives of other persons. The religion or religious concept need not include belief in the existence of God or a supreme being to be within the scope of the First Amendment.” 
It is then natural for the beliefs of the Satanic Temple members to be protected by the First Amendment, for it is made clear in most Supreme Court cases about religious freedom that the First Amendment was made to protect beliefs, before anything else. Some might be tempted to oppose this previous idea by describing the Satanic Temple more as a “hatred group” than as a “faith group”, as was seen in the press during the entire duration of the case. However, it seems to be part of Satanists' free exercise to “fight” against Christianity: Christian beliefs themselves affirm that Satan is working against God. Lastly, I would like to point out the fact that arguments concerning a lack of traditions or an insufficient number of members to debunk the Satanic Temple as a religious group are not really coherent. The organization often settles ceremonies and group prayers for its members, and their number is consequent. As written in the original article from the Washington Post, the Satanic Temple is a worldwide spread religious group.
This case is very similar to the one posted last week on the blog, about public prayer. Just like in that case, instead of recognizing free exercise for a religious minority, the state preferred to suppress signs of establishment, so to escape the accusations of unconstitutionality. Even if you are convinced that the goals of the Satanic Temple are purely political, I would like you to consider the strong message that such cases are sending: that the modern day interpretations of the First Amendment are only practical with religions of the majority. As we talked about in class, there is behind such an observation a possible logical explanation because of the framework of democracy, which naturally puts the opinions of the majority above the others.
However, I cannot help but feeling that such rulings are doing exactly what the First Amendment was originally made to avoid. As phrased by Tocqueville, the First Amendment was made to avoid the “tyranny of the majority”, that is to say so not to recreate a situation of religious intolerance like the one existing in England at the time, that Pilgrims and Puritans had fled from. As Thomas Jefferson said: “Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.” 

My point, nevertheless, is not to defend the existence of any practice as long as it is presented as religious. In France, the law is quite strict on that level. The government has the right to officially classify a supposedly religious group as a cult (une secte). If a religious group is legally defined as a cult (a decision which is based on the treatment it reserves to its members), its rights are limited but more importantly its activities are watched over. To give you a concrete example, Scientology is considered as a cult in France. I think most Americans will say that it limits religious freedom, to which I agree. I only wanted to evoke this matter to inform the readers that my opinions on this case are not entirely the result of my cultural background.
I simply think that under the First Amendment, if one follows an interpretation granted in history, the Satanic temple should have been granted the right to settle its own religious statue. After that, Christians would of course have had the right to protest against the statue, because this is also part of their free exercise to fight against the spread of Satanism – but I do not think that it was the place of the state officials to conduct such a quest. It clearly shows a preference of the state for a particular religion and thus causes an infringement to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. What is your opinion on that matter? Are the modern day interpretations of the First Amendment in concordance with the original motivations behind it?


Sarah A said...

I also saw the similarities between this and Lauren's blog last week. Like last week, have to agree that while the refusal to put up a statue for the Satanist group seems at first o be preventing the establishment of any religion, the news laws put in place like removing public prayer from meeting or removing the ten commandment statue is clearly pointed at the Satanist group. In that way, the Satanist group is losing their freedom of religion. It seems that this is another case where the minority is losing to the tyranny of of the majority.

Alex Puleo said...

I would have to agree with Caroline on her opinion within this post. It is not constitutional to disallow this group from erecting their statue. In addition, it prevents the establishment of religion. The fact that the court weighs the Satanic nature of this group so heavily is also wrong, due to the fact that it inhibits the group's ability to practice the freedom of religion.

Liz S. said...

I agree the 10 Commandments Statue was unconstiutional, but its existence in this case is important as it makes this case a bit trickier. Had the Christian representation of the 10 Commandments not already existed, I think it would be much easier to say that allowing the Satanic statue on public grounds is an establishment of religion, just as it would be if one tried to erect the 10 Commandment statue today- with groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, there would be a lot of push back. Does placing this Satanic Statue next to the 10 Commandments not establish religion because the two religions are so very different, and oppose one another, thus expressing different views, preventing an establishment? I think that religion should be excluded from public spaces altogether. I think that by wanting to erect a Statue, this Satanic religion made the state of Oklahoma more aware of how having a public display of religion, sanctioned by the government, can be extremely offensive, regardless of if that representation came from a minority or majority religion- someone will always get offended when religion is involved. The government found the 10 Commandments Statue to be unconstitutional, and thus they should remove it. If they did in fact remove the statue, I think that it is fair for them to refuse to erect the Satanic Statue, because they are treating these religions equally, despite the fact that in the past Christianity was seen as something ok to represent publicly, compared to the Satanic Temple. I think that, in trying to push for freedom of religion and lack of establishment, the government should stay out of religion altogether, and to make this work it is fair for them to refuse to allow the Satanic statue so long as Oklahoma removes every other public representation of religion.

Sara G. said...

I remember seeing this case when it first appeared in news articles back in 2013. When the issue first arose I enjoyed following it and still find it to be a great example of an establishment case. I agree that having the ten commandments displayed on capital grounds is unconstitutional, doing so without also having monuments for other religions seems to clearly violate the First Amendment by the establishment clause. The separations approach would be to eliminate all religious presence from the grounds, which is the approach Oklahoma ultimately decided to take by removing the ten commandments. However I usually prefer to take the accommodationist approach in cases like this, including the similar case two weeks ago. I think that, once receiving the request to erect a statue of Baphomet, the court was wrong to immediately come to the conclusion that the ten commandments were unconstitutional and therefore the Baphomet statue was as well. It seems as if this was only done to avoid having that particular statue erected, and not out of genuine concern for constitutional validity, because of how quickly this decision followed the proposed Baphomet. Because the capitol grounds had the ten commandments displayed, the state obviously had no problem with religious displays, and therefore should have had to erect the Baphomet statue as well, along with monuments made to any other religious group that petitioned it. I personally would love to see this statue if it ever came to be. I think it would be a great symbol of growing religious tolerance. It seems, by the swift decision to remove the ten commandments, that the state didn't want the Baphomet statue erected simply because of the widespread stereotypes associated with any group that labels itself as some form of Satanism. In reality the Satanic Temple is an atheistic group that uses Satan as an image representing individual freedom and rebellion from the norm. I see this case as an example, like you say, of how the minority is always subjected to the will of the majority. It seems, in this case at least, that the capitol grounds were either going to only support Christianity or no religion at all, which isn't constitutionally just. It should be all or none, not one or none.