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Satanic Temple alleges Twitter account suspension was religious discrimination

Lucien Greaves, a leader of the Satanic Temple, stands outside a courthouse in Salem, Mass., in 2016. The group has been fighting for the separation of church and state in many venues; it is now fighting Twitter. (Josh Reynolds for The Washington Post)

The Satanic Temple has been taking its crusade against the merging of church and state to many venues, using provocative ― and sometimes theatrical ― approaches to argue against public prayer at municipal meetings, religious statues on public lands and the infiltration of religious groups in the nation’s schools.

The Salem, Mass.-based organization is now taking on Twitter, alleging that the social media giant engaged in religious discrimination when it declined to take action against a person who advocated setting fire to the Satanic Temple’s headquarters.

Instead, the temple says, Twitter suspended the accounts of two of its leaders. They have filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination alleging that Twitter violated the Satanic Temple’s rights and that the company’s Trust and Safety Council ― which reviews user behavior ― is Orwellian, discriminatory and arbitrary.

“When Twitter is going to choose to treat one religious group differently than another, in a way that dehumanizes us, that sets up a dangerous precedent,” said Lucien Greaves, a temple spokesman and co-founder. “There was a tweet calling for our headquarters to be burned down, and I called it out, and instead my account got suspended. … There are deeper ramifications for society at large when social media can suspend your account just because of discrimination. We think there’s uniform standards with clear metrics, but really they are corruptible by individual prejudices.”

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Greaves said shortly after the Twitter threat a man was arrested at the temple’s headquarters, kicking the house and trying to stab people with a makeshift weapon; the man was arrested.

A representative for Twitter declined to comment on the case, saying the company is “unable to comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons.”

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Marc Randazza, a lawyer for the Satanic Temple, argued that the accounts were suspended simply because of the temple’s name; most people don’t understand that the temple does not worship the devil but instead promotes knowledge, understanding, science ― and pushes back against religion creeping into public spaces and events. It has notably tried to start After School Satan Clubs, an attempt to point out that allowing evangelical Christian clubs in public schools is hypocritical. It also has spoken out against corporal punishment and restrictions on abortion.

Randazza said he knows the temple is not “the most beloved” religious organization, but he said discrimination is discrimination.

“If we discriminate against them, who is to say that Muslims or Jews aren’t next?” Randazza said. “I personally believe all religion is superstition, so who is to criticize if one group believes in the lord of the underworld or magic or whatever they want?”

The group often takes a satirical approach to its activism, seeking to spark conversation. The Satanic Temple first gained widespread attention in 2013, after a group of Satanists assembled at the Florida State Capitol to show their approval for Senate Bill 98, which allowed student-led prayer at school assemblies. They praised the bill because “now our Satanic children could pray to Satan in school.”

In this promotional video, the Satanic Temple says it is planning to bring their new After School Satan Club to public schools across the country. (Video: The Satanic Temple)

Twitter’s policy allows the company to suspend an account for a number of reasons, including if a user attacks people based on race, religion or gender. Those who bully, abuse or harass others also can be suspended.

The company initially suspended Greaves’s account and that of the temple but later lifted the suspensions, though it has yet to verify the accounts. The temple’s complaint alleges the company was discriminatory and engaged in unlawful retaliation.

“Satanists are equal to any other religious adherents under the law and deserve to be treated equally,” Randazza said.