President Trump declared January 16, 2018, Religious Freedom Day. In his proclamation, the President stated that “[n]o American — whether a nun, nurse, baker, or business owner — should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith or adherence to the law.” This specific listing of test cases for religious liberty recalls directly the Trump administration’s roll-back of the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was opposed by a Catholic order of pro-life nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor; incidents of nurse’s suing their hospital employers for religious discrimination, alleging refusal to accommodate their faith-based objections to participating in abortions, vaccinations, and distributing birth control; the case of Colorado baker Jack Phillips currently before the Supreme Court, involving his refusal to provide wedding-cake services to homosexual couples, a case in which the Trump Department of Justice has publicly sided with Phillips; and objections by other large employers like Hobby Lobby to stipulations in federal laws such as the ACA which they claim violate their religious liberties by forcing them to offer reproductive health services to which they object to female employees as part of company health plans. This proclamation comes even as advocates for Church/State separation from within the larger religious community like Reverend Barry Lynn, ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and former executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, have warned that appeals from such groups to so-called “religious liberty” really seek to achieve not freedom for religion under the law, but rather freedom for religious adherents from observance of prevailing laws that protect vulnerable classes from discrimination on religious, and other, bases.
Not mentioned in the President’s statement are the severe restrictions placed on access to abortion services in many states across the nation that violate the deeply held religious beliefs of Satanists in The Satanic Temple (TST), which enshrines in its Seven Fundamental Tenets the principles of inviolability of the body and its being subject to one’s own will alone and that beliefs should conform to the best current scientific understanding of the world and not the other way around. The administration’s stated aim in issuing the Religious Freedom Day proclamation was to “ensure [that] Americans are able to follow their consciences without undue Government interference” and to protect the “religious diversity [that] strengthens our communities and promotes tolerance, respect, understanding, and equality.” Prominent Satanists have chosen to take this opportunity to likewise affirm their support for religious freedom of conscience and the promotion of tolerance, respect, understanding, and equality for Americans of all religious persuasions, as well as the burgeoning population of so-called nones.
In mid-seventeenth century Puritan New England, a conflict similar to the one we stand in witness of today played out over the proper relation of powerful religious interests to the authority of the state. The two sides to the conflict were represented chiefly by Congregationalist minister John Cotton, on the one hand, and future founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, on the other. In the winter of 1634-1635, a group of powerful Massachusetts Bay Colony minsters headed by Cotton made themselves signatories to a document outlining a vision for the interrelation of religious and civil authority in the colony entitled A Model of Church and Civil Power. The Model largely conflated religious and civil administration, arguing that the state had a compelling interest in restricting religious pluralism, as tolerance of many different religions would not only corrupt the church but also threaten to “dissolve the continuity of the state.” Accordingly, the Model empowered magistrates “to forbid all idolatrous and corrupt assemblies” in Massachusetts. Following his expulsion from that colony for just such “heresy and sedition” in October of 1635, Williams would go on to refute the Model in a later work of his own entitled The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience, published in 1644. There, Williams argued for a broad conception of religious pluralism, including the principle that “a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish [i.e. Muslim], or anti-christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries.” In defense of this principle, Williams argued that “God requireth not an uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity, sooner or later, is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.”
One of the many scriptural sticking points of contention between Cotton and Williams was the Parable of the Wheat and Tares in Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43, where Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a situation in which a person sowed wheat in his field, while, unbeknownst to him and under cover of night, an enemy came and also sowed weeds there. When servants later noticed the mixture of crops growing in the field and asked their master whether he wanted them to weed out the tares, the master declined, instructing them instead to let both crops grow together until the time of harvest, when they would gather the weeds in bundles and burn them, while depositing the mature wheat in the barn. Attempting to weed out the tares before harvest time would unduly risk uprooting the still growing wheat as well. In interpreting the parable, Jesus stated that the field represented the world, and the two crops, wheat and tares, represented the children of the kingdom of heaven and the children of the evil one [i.e. Satan], respectively. In applying this parable to practical life, John Cotton agreed with the earlier exegesis of Protestant theologian John Calvin, who had interpreted the field not as representing the entire world according to the literal word of Jesus, but rather as representing the Christian church. Calvin and Cotton took Jesus’ identification of the field with “the world” figuratively, as a form of the literary trope called synecdoche, which consists of applying a term of wider significance to what is more aptly merely a part of it. Under this reading, the parable treats only tolerance of variant opinions within the larger Christian church until the final coming of Christ, at which point God would separate the wheat from the weeds, saving the truly faithful and consigning corrupt believers to the flames. Since the message merely applies within the Church, the parable provides no reason or justification for tolerating religious opinions outside of Christian ones, which Cotton felt to be dangerous and threatening to the stability of the state. Williams, however, shot back that his colleague and persecutor had erred in disregarding the literal wording of Jesus’ identification of the field and had “labored to turn this field of the world into the garden of the Church.” That is, Williams countered that Cotton and like-minded Massachusetts Bay Colony minsters mistakenly sought to purify the whole world of religious dissent and enforce a vision of society as countenancing only different varieties of the one Christian faith. In this project, they became accomplices to “the bloody doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.”
When Williams and those who followed him wrote the charter for establishing the settlement of Providence, Rhode Island, in 1636, they signed their names to a document pledging “active or passive obedience, to all such orders or agreements as shall be made for public good of the body in an orderly way, by the major assent of the present inhabitants, masters of families, incorporated together into a town-fellowship, and such others whom they shall admit unto them, only in civil things.” This last phrase guaranteed that the government in Providence held authority solely over civil matters and not those of religious conscience. The Charter of the larger Rhode Island Colony, negotiated with King Charles II in 1663, similarly enshrined complete freedom of religious conviction and practice. The Charter, which served as the state constitution until 1842, stated:
“No person within the said Colony, at any time hereafter, shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion, in matters of religion, who does not actually disturb the peace of our said Colony ; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his own and their judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land heretofore mentioned, they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly and not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness, nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others.”
The genius of TST is that it has claimed the metaphor and symbol of The Adversary to act as a religious gadfly, goading current incarnations of the state into recognition of the sobering fact that their extensions of religious liberty to individuals and organizations opens a wide gate through which may pass representatives of any and all religious persuasions and commitments, even when they manifest little respect for certain civil laws. Williams warned in Bloudy Tenent that Satan can be a subtle and formidable interpreter of scripture. So also modern Satanic religions can play powerfully and with skill in the legal game of pitting religious liberty against the authority of the civil state to protect minorities and the non-religious from undue force or discrimination applied by powerful religious interests. When such interests want nothing more than to definitively and permanently erode the critical wall of separation between the powers of Church and State which Williams helped erect and then used as a cornerstone of his new colony of Rhode Island, the proper role of The Adversary is to serve as a breakwater around that wall, stemming the tide of religious privilege and preserving both freedom of and from religion, for everyone, including, in the words of Williams, “the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish [i.e. Muslim], or anti-christian consciences and worships…in all nations and countries.” To that list, we might append as well Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Shinto, Vodou, Santeria, Scientology, Curanderismo, and on and on. There is space and shelter for all beneath the Fallen Angel’s powerful wings.