Leave it to the Satanists to bring new fun to the shopworn church-state debate.

In November of last year, a monument to the Ten Commandments was erected on the grounds of the Oklahoma statehouse. The display was the pet project of State Rep. Mike Ritze, who not only spearheaded the legislative approval required, but whose family kicked in a cool $10,000 of the project’s overall cost. The monument stood for nine months, more or less unnoticed by the outside world, until the ACLU filed a lawsuit calling for its removal. But even as the suit bubbled steadily along, no one seemed to pay it much attention. Until…

On December 1, a press release went out from the New York-based Satanic Temple, offering “to donate a public monument to Oklahoma’s Capitol Preservation Commission for display upon Oklahoma City’s capitol grounds.” The group pitched the monument as “an homage” to Satan, meant “to complement and contrast the Ten Commandments monument that already resides on the North side of the building.” As temple founder and spokesman Lucien Greaves elaborated, “Allowing us to donate a monument would show that the Oklahoma City Council does not discriminate, and both the religious and non-religious should be happy with such an outcome.”

The news that Satanists were launching a Christmastime assault in the buckle of the Bible belt—under the guise of religious freedom, no less—prompted precisely the national buzzfest you’d expect. Everyone was shaking their heads: some in outrage, others in amusement. Rep. Ritze regretfully informed me that, on the advice of counsel, he could not comment on the matter. By contrast, his fellow lawmakers have been vigorously denouncing the Satanists as something between nutjobs and jokers.

Which is precisely what the Satanic Temple was aiming for.

To clarify, the Satanic Temple is neither satanic nor a temple in any commonly understood sense. Its members do not worship dark forces nor conduct mysterious rituals in shadowy chambers. The group, in fact, rejects the whole idea of the supernatural and holds among its core principles, as Greaves (himself an atheist) explains in a phone interview, a respect for “individual independence, personal sovereignty, and a pursuit of knowledge.”

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