Satanists and pot smokers testing the integrity of religious freedom laws

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act — now with 10% more freedom! — is set to go into effect on July 1st, and Christians across the state are getting ready for all of the extra freedom to not sell things to LGBT people who want to give them money.

However, Christian backers of religious freedom bills are finding out the hard way that when they say religious freedom, they have to mean every flavor of religious freedom. While the people who lobby for, write and pass religious freedom laws and judicial rulings are almost exclusively Christian, and have conservative Judeo-Christian morality in mind, a number of other less-prevalent religious groups are lining up to make the government walk its all-encompassing religious freedom talk.

Case in point: A Missouri woman who identifies as a Satanist used her religious beliefs to ask for an exemption to the state’s mandatory 72-hour waiting period before she could obtain an abortion. There is only one abortion provider in the state, Planned Parenthood St. Louis, and the woman, identified as “Mary,” lives hundreds of miles away. This meant that the waiting period forced her to either get a hotel and take time off from work or make the trip twice. In a written statement she brought with her to the clinic, Mary argued that the state’s mandatory waiting period is (emphasis in the original):

Jesus arm wrestling Satan, via Wallpedes / Creative Commons

Jesus arm wrestling Satan, via Wallpedes / Creative Commons

…a state sanctioned attempt to discourage abortion by instilling an unnecessary burden as part of the process to obtain this legal medical procedure.The waiting period interferes with the inviolability of my body and thereby imposes an unwanted and substantial burden on my sincerely held religious beliefs.

This letter constitutes my acknowledgment that you have notified me of the state mandated waiting period, but demands that you do not abide by this obligation because the waiting period offends my sincerely held religious beliefs, which take precedent.

Mary’s request was not honored, and The Satanic Temple has sued the state of Missouri for violating her deeply-held religious beliefs. Like Indiana will in just over a month, Missouri already has a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in effect that ostensibly classifies the state’s waiting period as an unnecessary imposition on Mary’s deeply-held religious belief that choices involving her body are hers and nobody else’s.

The Satanists’ case in Missouri could prove instructive in Indiana, where the First Church of Cannabis is set to celebrate the implementation of the state’s RFRA by hotboxing their newly-leased sanctuary — in accordance with their deeply-held religious beliefs, of course.

And it’s hard to argue that they can’t. After all, refusing to participate in a gay wedding is a tangential Christian belief at best. Jesus certainly doesn’t say anything on the subject, and a closer reading of the Bible suggests that even the wrathful God of the Old Testament would be fine with marriage equality (and abortion, for that matter). By contrast, marijuana usage is a central tenet of the First Church of Cannabis, on par with their other core values that include but are not limited to: “Don’t be an asshole” and “Help others when you can.”

(Sounds like a religion that even an atheist like myself could get on board with.)

If all religions deserve equal protection in the eyes of the state, then the First Church of Cannabis should see their services go off without a hitch. If a religious freedom law protects Indianans’ right to not bake a cake, surely it protects their right to wake-and-bake, as it were, so long as the justification is the same.

In the event that members of the First Church of Cannabis are arrested for marijuana possession — which should already be legal on secular grounds — or in the event that the Satanists lose their lawsuit, it will expose these religious freedom laws for what they are: government-sponsored Christianity.

The First Amendment should be more than enough to protect our religious freedom. We don’t need any extra laws that define one religion as being more free than the rest. It shouldn’t take what would otherwise be exercises in absurdity to show as much.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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