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Friday, May 9, 2014

The Satanic Monument and the Capital Building... And My Take on the Issue.

If you have been living under a rock and haven't yet heard all the controversy surrounding the Satanic Display which is proposed for the grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol Grounds yet, it's time you came out and took a look at what is going on here.  There are a lot of rumors and I'm not entirely sure everyone really understands the importance of this proposal or the situation surrounding it. It's also raised some questions as to "where does it end" and who else will want to put something up.

The Current 10 Commandments Monument
Located at the OK Capital Building
Before we discuss the proposed statue from the Satanists, it's important that you know that the State of Oklahoma is currently in a rather heated legal battle with the ACLU over their placement of the 10 Commandments on the grounds of their Capitol Building.  The ACLU filed a law suit in 2013, on the behalf of a Babtist Minister who stated he was "highly offended" by the monument during a trip to the Capitol. The suit attempts to force the Capitol Building in to removing the monument.  The display itself was a gift from Republican Rep. Mike Ritze and his family, who paid nearly $10,000 to build and erect the 6-foot-tall granite monument authorized by the GOP-controlled Legislature in 2009 and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Brad Henry.  But the ACLU contends that it uses government property to promote one religion over another, and “trivializes” the religious roots of the Ten Commandments by putting them in “a political and secular context.”  Daniel Mach, director of the national ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief stated: “On fundamental matters of faith, the state has no business telling its citizens what to believe,” following with “No one should be made to feel unwelcome at their own state Capitol.”  In the past, numerous courts have ruled against such monuments, however at this point, the battle continues...

After the announcement of the ACLU's law suit against OK, numerous groups announced that they too would seek to place their own monuments along wide the now present 10 Commandments.  None were quite so serious as the Satanic Temple in New York, who quickly unveiled a design and an online fund raiser to fund the project which quickly raised well over $25,000 in donations from around the world. In January of 2014, the State Capitol Preservation Commission received the formal application from the Satanic Temple to construct a monument next to the Ten Commandments statue that stands on Capitol grounds. The design contained with in the application show a 7-foot statue with a goat-headed Satan sitting upon a throne flanked by two children beneath a inverted pentacle. Then earlier this month the Satanic Temple released the first "sneak peak" of the new Statue's official design to Vice Magazine. While the project is currently on hold for the outcome of the ACLU v OK case, it has caused quite the stir among individuals of all faiths.

The Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves has stated "The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation."  And the group as a whole has put forth the notion that the monument is meant to represent the views of Satanists both within the state of Oklahoma, as well as without.

The Satanic Monument in it's Current Form.
The final creation will bring the two pieces together,
placing "Satan," under the Pentacle.

All of this, however, begs a few questions... Many of which I feel it's about damn time get asked!

First of those questions of course is "Who gets to display their religious monuments on governmental grounds and who doesn't?"  Satanists make up maybe one of the smallest groups of organized religions in the country. However, constitutionally their religious faith is as untouchable and equal to that of even the largest groups.  What this means is that IF one religion is permitted, legally, it opens the door for representations from EVERY religious group to be added to the grounds of this - and other governmental buildings.  To dis-allow one group's display based solely on the number of followers would be both discriminatory and unconstitutional - remember there may not be an "official religion" which means the government also can't speak out against any faith or show favoritism towards one over another.  **I'm not saying they don't' do these things, I'm just saying they aren't legally permitted to.** So I would have to agree with ACLU Director Mach when he said: "Once the state has one religious monument that's allowed to stay by the court, by nature they have a very hard time denying it to others" meaning, at least in my opinion, IF the state wins their case, they will essentially have NO legal case to prevent the Satanic Temple - or any other religious group - from displaying similar monuments. However, if the ACLU wins their case and the state is forced to remove the current display, the chances that ANY religious group would be permitted, simply wouldn't exist.

This of course takes us to the next question of "What happens if too many groups propose monuments?"  Well, as stated above, the state would have a difficult time denying any single group the same privilege which they have so far afforded to the Judeo-Christian belief systems.  Personally I feel this will eventually lead to the removal of all and any monuments displayed there simply because even if they do win this case, there is literally only so much space on the grounds and if they don't allow all, they won't be able to allow any... So simply due to a space issue, in the long run I see them all being removed. That said, if a group has the ability to do so, they shouldn't allow the space issue to stop them from proposing their own monument should that door be opened.  This is a country founded on the ideal of "Freedom of Religion" and it's about damn time we start to live by those words on a political front.

So what is the solution here? There are two from what I can see... Either remove the current monument and not put up any, or place a monument to this countries Freedom of Religion as a whole which would allow space for the various groups to be displayed side by side and equally.  Personally, I don't see the second option ever happening, not because I don't think it is a good idea, but because I feel it would call for way to much cross-religion tolerance.

Each time this issue has come up online the question of whether or not the Pagan community should make a similar monument has come up.  And while a part of me starts jumping up and down with the idea screaming "If they can do it so can we!" the rational part of me realizes that such a monument would be difficult to create.  Why? Because within Paganism there are simply so many different faiths that it would be difficult to find any one symbol to represent them all.  That doesn't mean I don't believe it can - or possibly even should - be done.  Pagans undoubtedly deserve to be shown with equal representation to other groups. However, as stated above, for the pure reason of space, it would be difficult to represent each group equal to those monuments which are already represented.

So what do I propose? How would I suggest a project like this should be approached? I feel that, ideally, we would be creating one large monument to the Freedom of Religion and the ability of those religions to coexists side by side on a national and governmental level.  However, as I said above, I see that as an improbable outcome. So, I would suggest a similar monument be taken on by the nations Pagans.  Although any number of designs could accomplish this vision, in my own minds eye I picture a large granite "round table" inscribed with the symbols of a great many forms of Pagan (and ideally non-Pagan as well) religious groups.  I would then inscribe in the center either the words of our First Amendment (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise their of...) OR the always popular "E. Pluribus Unum" (translates to: One From Many) to signify that even though we have differing religious beliefs, we all are what make up this country.

Just a rough idea of the table top in my head...

An 8ft table could easily display up to 60 five inch symbols in two layers... And still allow enough room for the words in the center...  This table could them be surrounded with matching benches where visitors or government employees could sit and rest, eat their lunch or even debate matters of church or state...  In this way the monument would not only "have space for everyone" figuratively, but physically, offering everyone who were to see it a positive view of how our nation allows individuals of all faiths to live peacefully side by side...  Something that our government and our citizens often need a reminder of.

So anyways, while I doubt my idea would ever become a reality, there it is.  I feel that as a nation, we need to be putting forth a solid front of equality when it comes to faith and show NO favoritism. This requires diplomacy and a willingness to set aside personal views. If I were a millionaire, I would definitively consider creating and erecting such a monument to religious equality & tolerance.  Unfortunately, I am not, and I do not see anyone who is taking the stand for equality that this type of thing would require. However, there is always hope.

What I suppose this all boils down to though is something much bigger than a few slabs of granite. It's about each faith group wanting to be heard, wanting to be seen and wanting equal rights to their neighbors.  And that's a noble cause.  Unfortunately for us though, we are attempting to fight our way to equality by knocking others down and forcing our way up, causing anger, injury and animosity in the process - not equality.

Regardless of whether or not the ACLU wins or not, and regardless of whether or not the Satanic Temple's monument is able to be placed, this issue is NOT going away!  Why? Because each of these faiths will continue to see each other as separate from one another rather than as piece of a larger picture.  If we are ever going to put this issue to bed it's going to take a change in the way our government and it's people see things.  Until we are able to form some equal seating in the case of religion, we are going to continue to see issues like this... But, alas, that's for another post...

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