Illustration by Lee DeVito
Why is The Satanic Temple placing a holiday display at the Michigan State Capitol even though there will not be a Nativity scene on the Capitol grounds?
The Satanic Temple’s request (to place a holiday display at the Capitol) in Michigan came in response to reports that a Nativity Scene was already scheduled for public exhibition. Jex Blackmore (of TST’s executive ministry, and head of the Detroit chapter) stated, “Where there is obstinate refusal to keep religious iconography off of public spaces, the least we can do is ensure that the Government is remaining neutral, respecting a diversity of religious views, with preference for, and exclusion of, none.”
An amusing twist-in-the-plot occurred when it was then learned that the Nativity Scene would not be present at the Capitol after all. The Commission had imposed harsh restrictions on Capitol displays, requiring that every display be taken down at night and replaced the following morning. The Satanic Temple is able to meet those requirements, while the organization offering the Nativity are not. Hilariously, it appears that the strict impositions placed on the displays were devised specifically to keep TST out. In an early phone call to the Capitol, Blackmore (before she revealed her affiliation with TST) was told that the nightly take-down requirement was a response to “that group in Florida” — an obvious reference to TST’s successful battle to place a holiday display at the Florida Capitol Rotunda.
With the Nativity no longer at issue, some have suggested that our display should be withdrawn from exhibition as well. After all, is it not preferable that no religious displays litter the Capitol? While I would agree that religious iconography should enjoy no government deference, and our mission has always been in support of plurality, the problem of policy remains. The fact is, the State allows for such displays, and they will have to expect the unexpected if they intend to keep a policy that allows for religious displays on government land. If we’re contesting anything, it’s not the Nativity, but the policy that allows for a Nativity to be placed at the Capitol.
The fact that our actions will not always follow a linear and predictable tit-for-tat should perhaps serve to give pause to Michigan’s Senate as they consider the controversial Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (MRFRA). TST has thoughtfully conceived of many ways in which this contentious bill — feared to give legal protection to religious bigotry — can benefit our own affirmative values in ways Michigan lawmakers surely have not foreseen. The Senate can consider our holiday display a reminder of diverse, protected values, and they can reject the bill for the legal disaster it will bring... in which case we will assume victory. Or, they can approve the bill, and we will work to take full advantage of it… in which case, we’ll also assume victory.
Lucien Greaves is the pen name/pseudonym for Doug Mesner, spokesman for The Satanic Temple.