The New York-based Satanic Temple wants to place a shrine to Satan next to a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol. The offer comes four years after Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled legislature approved the privately funded, biblically based monument, which was placed on the Capitol’s lawn last summer. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union believes the Ten Commandments monument is unconstitutional and has filed a lawsuit seeking its removal.
The Satanic Temple plans to submit several designs, including one with a pentagram symbol and another that is interactive for children, to the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission for consideration, said Lucien Greaves, a temple spokesman.
Oklahomans’ reactions to the offer have been less than welcoming. Both House Speaker T.W. Shannon and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman assured jittery constituents Monday that such a plan was far from a reality. The members of a commission that would need to approve the monument also sounded skeptical.
“Anything displayed at the Capitol should be a representation of the values of Oklahomans and this nation,” said Joe Griffin, spokesman for Shannon. “The left-hand path philosophies of this organization do not align with the values of Oklahomans, nor the ideals this country or its laws are founded upon.”
Many news outlets covering the story are reporting that because Oklahoma has a Ten Commandments monument on government property, it is obligated to accept the Satanic Temple’s monument to avoid religious discrimination.
“The whole point is that we're a religiously pluralistic society, so if there's going to be one [religion represented], there will be others … or there will be neither,” Greaves said. “Those are the only real options.”
Not so fast, said Jeff Mateer, general counsel for Liberty Institute. He said the legality of the Ten Commandments monument and the need to accept other religious monuments are two different issues. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Ten Commandments monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds as constitutional in Van Orden v. Perry.
“The replica on the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds is the exact same monument [as Texas], literally,” Mateer said. “Exact size. Exact text. It would be bizarre if Texas can have its Ten Commandments monument but Oklahoma cannot.”
In addition, Oklahoma is not compelled to accept the Satanic Temple monument. By unanimous vote, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Pleasant Grove City, Utah, was not required to accept a monument donated by the religious group Seven Aphorisms of Summum, even though it had already accepted a donated Ten Commandments monument. The justices concluded that the city had a right to “portray what the government decision-makers view as appropriate for the place in question, based on aesthetics, history, and local culture.”
“It is extremely rare for the all nine justices to agree on anything,” said Mateer. “However, they do agree that in situations such as this, the government has discretion to choose which monuments it wants to accept.”