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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  • Indigo

    Oh. I had to go back and re-read to find that expression. Then I scratched my head for a moment and . . . oh! Well, alrightie then! Legal in Indiana, somehow. But you know, it’s not like rural Indiana doesn’t have weed growing along the back fence rows anyhow. These days, I hear from my brother, there’s a meth lab in every township. Their “freedom” is working out awkwardly.

    (Native-born Hoosier, here, btw)

  • Indigo

    That’s an excellent point! I’ve resorted to almost exactly that on several occasions, invoking Mammon where Mammon was clearly invoked under the wrong name, i.e., Jesus.

  • Indigo

    LOL!

  • Snarki, child of Loki

    Just wait until all Corporations are officially declared “Temples of Mammon” and given a full tax exemption.

  • Snarki, child of Loki

    It really is surprising that Satanism isn’t more popular in High Schools.

    And remember, people, when someone wishes you “Merry Christmas”, you can return the good sentiment (in a Satanist way) by replying: “Go to Hel!”

  • To use a cliche: “It’s the hypocrisy, stupid.”

    It should be obvious these laws are being passed because the radical Christianists cannot imagine any circumstance where it is any beliefs but theirs taking precedence. Thus they insist it is not just their belief, but that of all Christians everywhere that God hates gay people. And they insist on the decidedly modern belief that (1) a fertilized egg is a human being and (2) it is morally wrong to interfere in any way with that egg being fertilized in the first place. And of course there are no valid religious holidays, practices, or accommodations but theirs — thus they get their Baby Jesus creche on the public square, but by gum they won’t allow the Satanists or Festivus folks to set up their displays.

    But at the same time, the Christianists want to maintain the ridiculous pretense their motives are other than a desire to discriminate. And they can’t have it both ways.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I have never heard of the expression “hotboxing”. However, it does explain a couple of incidents.

  • Knottwhole

    In the name of the bong, the vaporizer and the holy spliff.

  • Indigo

    200 years earlier

  • mf_roe

    Pilgrims?

  • BillFromPA

    Religious freedom laws have no integrity to lose.

  • Indigo

    Including our own.

  • Indigo

    Not really an oxymoron, more like another 18th century anachronism. We don’t have the Anglican State Church with the Monarch of England as the head of our state church nor do we required by law to face Canterbury when we pray. That’s all it was about in those days of yore.

  • Indigo

    The Satanists are taking some interesting steps in many places. Here in central Florida, they accidentally (?) shut down the Fundamentalist practice of setting up a little table to distribute bibles in public schools by demanding equal access. At first, the equal access was grudgingly conceded but then a change of heart at higher administrative levels reversed the policy and banned everyone from distributing religious literature in the public schools.

    The score currently stands at Satan 1 / Fundies 0.

  • mf_roe

    This country has a long history of denying religious freedom. The religious beliefs of Native Americans have long been outlawed. Utah wasn’t admitted as a state until the Mormons amended their belief in pologamy. Satinism is considered a Crime in most Bible Belt States. Sainteria is persecuted because of animal scarifice (Really Stupid if you ever READ the Old Testiment).. American Freedom of Religion is an Oxymorn.

  • goulo

    Indeed a lot of non-French rightwingers were enthused by the French mayor
    Robert Chardon who recently said that Islam should be completely banned in France and all Muslims deported. I expect to see that kind of craziness increase in many countries. :/

  • nicho

    You do have to jump over a few hurdles to be recognized as a church, at least as far as the IRS is concerned. You can’t just hang out a sign and get a tax exemption. Otherwise, we’d all be churches.

  • Hue-Man

    Scalia’s comment about religion was about Islam but I wonder whether he would apply it to less conventional cults.

    “Justice Scalia said compromise cannot be reconciled with faith. “Religious beliefs aren’t reasonable,” he said. “Religious beliefs are categorical. You know, it’s God tells you.”” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/08/us/politics/as-test-of-religious-liberty-justices-say-beard-case-may-come-up-short.html

    My brain hurts when I think about a judge having to reach a rational conclusion in a case while he bases his legal framework on an irrational religious document!

  • percysowner

    Periodically Texas tries to get the Unitarian/Universalist church declared not a religion, so they can tax them. So far they have lost, based on the First Amendment, but I can see the day when religion will be defined by states as being the “right” religion.

  • LasloPratt

    Let’s take it a step further. How hard is it to envision that at some point the argument is made that the First Church of Cannabis is not a “real” religion? From where I’m sitting, all roads lead to a scenario where the state decides what is and is not a legitimate religious belief. Which is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to head off.

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