Monday, January 20, 2014

Sympathy For the Devil

I read a story in the news a few weeks ago about a group of Satanists who have gotten together and applied for permission to build a monument on the capital grounds in Oklahoma City. The group did not choose Oklahoma City randomly for their seven-foot statue of a seated, goat-headed god. Oklahoma recently allowed a monument of the Ten Commandments to be placed at the capital building, opening the door to a lawsuit from the ACLU on First Amendment principals. As you remember, the First Amendment enshrines both the right to free speech AND the right to religious freedom.

To me, this is a no-brainer. Of course citizens have the right to build a monument to the Ten Commandments;  “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise (of religion).” Also, the tale of Moses receiving the law of God is one of the most well known stories ever and the basis for 4000 years of Judeo-Christian morality. However, because of that pesky First Amendment, the state of Oklahoma finds itself in a sticky place.  Along with the right of citizens to practice the religion of their choice without interference from the government, the very same amendment bars the state from endorsing one religion over others; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

By allowing a monument rooted firmly in the practice of Judaism and Christianity to take a place of prominence on the capital grounds, the state appears to have endorsed one set of beliefs over all others. To rectify this, the state must allow the erection of similar monuments rooted in other faiths OR order the removal of the original monument. The fact that it is a group of Satanists who have announced plans to place their own monument in Oklahoma City makes me gleeful. It is the perfect group to challenge the state of Oklahoma.

The worship of Satan would most likely be abhorrent to 99% of the citizens of the Sooner State, and this will be a real test of Oklahoma’s commitment to the ideals of the United States Constitution. If Christians and Jews can have a monument on land at the state capital building, then so can other faiths, right?  That is exactly what the Constitution guarantees.

The First Amendment protects the right of stupid people to say hurtful things exactly as strongly as it does the right of Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak so beautifully about equality. That same First Amendment protects the right of any citizen to pray to any arbitrary and omniscient being he or she chooses, while at the same time guaranteeing the government cannot endorse one particular omnipotent being (or set of beings) over any other omnipotent being (or set of beings). For the Constitution to mean anything, it has to apply equally. For the citizens of Oklahoma, that means you either have to take down those Ten Commandments or clear space for Baphomet (the goat-headed Satanist monument), Shiva, Buddha, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and any other imaginary being people choose to worship. That is the enduring truth of the First Amendment: it is at its most beautiful when protecting what many find most ugly.

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