Michigan considered a nativity scene for the state capitol this holiday season. Instead, they got the snake from the Garden of Eden sitting in front of a pentagram, offering a book representing “knowledge” as a gift.
A local chapter of the Satanic Temple — a group best known for testing the limits of the intersection of free speech and religious expression, and not for actually worshiping Satan — announced this week that its proposal for a small holiday display was approved by the state. It’s the second such display from a local chapter of the group to gain approval this year. In Florida, the Satanic Temple will erect a holiday display on the capitol rotunda, alongside those of several other religious and secular groups.
This means the Satanic Temple is two for two in its effort this year to deck the halls with its — well, kind of trolly — public displays of the group’s beliefs.
The success “has triggered the enthusiasm of a number of other local affiliates, but it’s probably too late in the season now for them,” spokesman Lucien Greaves said in an e-mailed statement. “However, I suspect that next year will find a Satanic holiday display next to most every Nativity on government land.”
As the Detroit Free Press reported, the state has yet to approve a proposed nativity scene for the same space because of a state law requiring public holiday displays to be removed each evening. The applicant who proposed funding a Nativity scene for the space lives out-of-state, and has been unable to assure the state that the display will comply with the rule.
By contrast, Jex Blackmore of the Detroit Satanic Temple chapter has convinced the state that she will be able to meet the requirement at the Lansing capitol building from Dec. 21 through 23. Unless the anonymous person behind the Nativity display can do the same, Michigan will be without a Nativity scene, but with the Satanic Temple’s holiday festivities, at the Capitol this year.
At least one state senator has pledged to help Nativity supporters scramble for a last-minute solution: State Sen. Rick Jones told Mlive that he has offered to take care of the upkeep himself, or to help find volunteers.
John Truscott of the Michigan State Capitol Commission told the Free Press that the commission approved the display because it is required to “recognize everybody’s First Amendment rights.”
He added: “Personally, I think this is absolutely repulsive and I’m very frustrated by it. I don’t appreciate a group trying to hijack a Christian holiday.”
According to a recent poll, the vast majority of Americans support public religious displays on government land. A plurality of Americans — 44 percent — believes that the government should allow Christian symbols on public property without necessarily including religious symbols from other faiths. A further 28 percent of Americans think those displays should only be allowed if, as in Michigan, the government also allows displays from any religious group.
It’s that debate of how to manage opportunities for religious expression on public property that the Satanic Temple often concerns itself with. The Satanic Temple defines its beliefs as “religious,” the group differentiates its religious beliefs from a belief in the “supernatural,” including Satan.
“To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from super-naturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions,” the Satanic Temple’s site explains. Its belief system is similar to — yet distinct from — the separate organization of the Church of Satan, an atheist group which also uses the “satanist” moniker, but tends to quietly disapprove of what it sees as the political nature of many of the Satanic Temple’s more well-known projects.