Sunday, May 1, 2016

A new kind of picketers

For my last article on the blog, I decided to take as a starting point for analysis the reactions of a certain type of media to the recent counter-demonstrations organized by the Satanic Temple in front of Planned Parenthood clinics, in response to the more usual “pro-life” or “anti-abortion” protestations near those. I chose an article written for a Christian website specialized in cultural conflicts around abortion, siding with the “pro-life” movement. It is needless to say that the author was not sympathetic with the actions of the Satanic Temple: the lexical field of error is used throughout the article, with sentences and expressions like “their inability to rationally communicate their position”, “very poorly conceived”, “the message was essentially incoherent”, “the message never got though [sic]”, “confusion, incoherency”. However, this is not something negative, for the website itself shows its bias about the debate. This is not something that demand analysis so to say. In the article, the author – himself a recurrent participant to “pro-life” demonstrations in front of abortion clinics – does not directly advocate for the shutdown of the Satanic Temple counter-demonstrations, but he is extremely critical about the content of those gatherings, and about the people who are part of those. Thus I would like to study the hypothetical question of whether or not those counter-demonstrations are part of the free exercise right of the Satanic Temple members.

I have already established in one of my previous articles that the Satanic Temple is indeed a religious group in the eyes of the Supreme Court within the framework of the First Amendment, thanks to the 1963 United States v. Seeger case, for which the Justices ruled that a religion is a sincere and meaningful belief which occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those”. The Satanic Temple also seems to correspond to the popular understanding of what a religion is, for it has a definite structure, a consequential number of members, and traditions. The Satanic Temple defends a particular definition of femininity, which states – among other things – that women must have an absolutely total control over their own bodies. From that point of view, it is obvious that the members of this group are in disagreement with the “pro-life” movement, because that movement supports concrete obstacles between women and the full control of their own bodies. It is important to point out that this is a fact, outside of partisan opinions. The “pro-life” movement presents those obstacles as beneficial things for women and for fetuses, and one might share this perspective according to one's own opinions, but they do actually limit women in taking decisions about their own bodies. Within the First Amendment, it is thus indeed part of the free exercise right of the Satanic Temple members to protest against the pro-life movement.

Then it is important, at this point, to focus our concern on the content of the counter-demonstrations, to verify if this is not too violent nor too sexual, that is to say too graphic, which is a limit to free speech commonly tolerated in modern American society. On that level, it is true that the content appears to be borderline for some, or even actually crossing the line. The protesters of the Satanic Temple used fake blood, scary masks, relative nudity, and whips. Nonetheless, I do not think it crosses the line of what the Supreme Court has historically authorized to take place in front of abortion clinics. In his book The Street Politics of Abortion: Speech, Violence, and America's Culture Wars (Stanford University Press; 2003), Joshua C. Wilson depicts the methods used by various pro-life groups around abortion clinics, since the middle of the 20th century. For example, Joshua C. Wilson evokes the anti-Semitic and KKK literature accusing the doctors being distributed outside of the clinics, the death threats said to women going to the clinics, or else for instance the extremely graphic images shown to them. The worst of those methods was seen during the well-known Spring of Life, during which, among other things, the “pro-life” protesters displayed actual corpses of fetuses in front of the clinics. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court never directly controlled the content of those demonstrations, for it is protected free speech, but rather made decisions so to ensure the physical practical access to the clinics, such as Madsen v. Women’s Health Center, Inc (1994). I willingly do not take in accounts the actions of the group Operation Rescue, which attained a criminal level.

I do believe that the counter-demonstrations organized by the Satanic Temple, as disgusting as one may consider them, are legitimate part of the free exercise right of the group, and that their content do not go further than what the Supreme Court has historically authorized around abortion clinics. What is your stand on the subject? Do you think the Satanic Temple went too far?


nick paray said...

The beauty of America is the unfettered opportunity for ideas to be challenged in the public sphere. The manifestation of these dissenting opinions may be unattractive or disgusting, but the right to present these ideas is undoubtably preserved by the first amendment. Short of a direct call to action that incites violence or illegal activity, all speech should be allowed.

Kaily G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kaily G said...

The right to express your opinion is protected under the First Amendment no matter what your beliefs are. The only thing that truly matters is how this right is exercised. Meaning, if a protest is organized to cause extreme disruption and violence then the government can most certainly intervene. But no one has the right to restrict speech regardless if they don’t agree with it -even if the beliefs are highly offensive. Indeed, individuals can even speak out against the president, congress, or even the chief of police without being censored. Furthermore, everyone has this right, which includes all races, genders, religions (including Satanists), people who speak different languages, anarchists, etc.

Thus, the counter-demonstrations organized by the Satanic Temple in front of Planned Parenthood Clinic is completely constitutional and within their rights. To put things into further perspective, a demonstration can even burn the American flag. To that end, even with the Satanic protestor’s use of fake blood, scary masks, and relative nudity all citizens are allowed freedom of expression, including the burning of a nationalistic symbol and speaking out against both the president and government. These examples ultimately prove that the Satanic protesters without a doubt can hold a gruesome protest outside a clinic if they wish to do so.