The Satanic Temple is an American political activist organization based in Salem, Massachusetts with several chapter groups throughout the country, the largest of which is in Detroit, Michigan. The group utilizes Satanic imagery to promote egalitarianism, social justice and the separation of church and state. Their stated mission is "to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people". The group was co-founded by Lucien Greaves, the organization's spokesperson, and Malcolm Jarry.
The organization actively participates in public affairs that have manifested in several public political actions and efforts at lobbying, with a focus on the separation of church and state and using satire against Christian groups that it believes interfere with personal freedom. The group has held gatherings that include dance music, porn rooms, phallic imagery, sadomasochistic behaviors and nudity.
The organization has been the focus of controversy due to several religious challenges, causing some critics to question whether or not the Satanic Temple is a prank, satire, or a genuine Satanic organization. It also considers gay marriage a religious sacrament, and therefore argues that bans on the practice violate Satanists' freedom of religion. Because the group regards inviolability of the body as a key doctrine, it also views all restrictions on abortion, including mandatory waiting periods, as an infringement on the rights of Satanists to practice their religion.
The Satanic Temple does not believe in a supernatural Satan, as they believe that this encourages superstition that will keep them from being "malleable to the best current scientific understandings of the material world". The Temple uses the literary Satan as metaphor to construct a cultural narrative which promotes pragmatic skepticism, rational reciprocity, personal autonomy, and curiosity. Satan is thus used as a symbol representing "the eternal rebel" against arbitrary authority and social norms.
In an interview with The New York Times, co-founder Malcolm Jarry stated that the idea of The Satanic Temple was first conceived as "a faith-based organization that met all the Bush administration’s criteria for receiving funds, but was repugnant to them". The Temple was inspired by then–president George W. Bush's formation of White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, for which he thought should be something to counter it.
The Satanic Temple describes its mission as follows:
"The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will. Civic-minded, The Satanic Temple has been involved in a number of good works including taking a stand against the controversial and extremist Westboro Baptist Church, working on behalf of children in public school who have been subject to corporal punishment and more."
The Satanic Temple follows seven tenets, quoted below:
- "One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason."
- "The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions."
- "One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone."
- "The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own."
- "Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs."
- "People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused."
- "Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word."
Valerie Tarico of Salon wrote that the tenets were egalitarian and "truer to the words of Jesus than most Christians", referring to the tenets as expressing the primacy of compassion and empathy and conducive to a path to equanimity. This sentiment was echoed in an article for Patheos, wherein editor Michael Stone called the tenets "morality superior to [the] Ten Commandments", referring to them as "a more moral, and more optimistic stance, emphasizing positive, pro-social values.
The Temple has chapters in multiple states, with groups in locations such as Los Angeles, California, and as of July 2015 has about 20 chapters.
The Satanic Temple has taken part in several public activities that have been the focus of public scrutiny. The organization first gained media attention in January 2013 after a group of Satanists assembled at the Florida State Capitol to show their approval over a bill Governor Rick Scott signed into law the prior year, Senate Bill 98, which allowed student-led prayer at school assemblies. The group further stated that as the bill did not specify a religion, the prayers could be led by a student from any religion—including Satanism.
One of the projects launched by The Satanic Temple was an attempt to raise enough money to “adopt-a-highway” in New York City. The adopt-a-highway program would have involved the group maintaining and beautifying part of the public highway for up to two years. Their goal was to raise awareness about religious diversity. The group stated that “The campaign will do more than keep our highways clean. It will help send a clear message to the world reaffirming American Religious Plurality”. The group raised just over $2,000 between June 10 and August 15, 2013; short of their goal of $15,000. If their goal had been reached, the New York Department of Transportation would have approved the plan, and the funds would have been put toward the campaign. In the event that the department did not approve the project, the funds were to support contesting that decision. The organization offered different incentive levels for donations, ranging from ten dollars, for which the donor would receive a button, to ten thousand dollars, for which the donor would receive a full “Membership Package,” including the ability to choose the location of and to participate in the next Pink Mass that The Satanic Temple performed.
In July 2013 the Satanic Temple held a "Pink Mass" over the grave of Catherine Johnston, the mother of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps. The mass was held after the Westboro Baptist Church announced their intention to picket the funerals of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. The Temple claimed that they had based the idea of the mass on similar activities held by factions of the Latter Day Saint movement, where they would perform proxy baptisms. The Pink Mass was officiated by Greaves and consisted of two gay men kissing over Johnston's grave while Greaves chanted an incantation intended to change the deceased's sexual orientation. A misdemeanor charge was issued against Greaves and he was told that if he returned to Lauderdale County, Mississippi (where Johnston's grave is located), that he would be arrested. Shortly before Phelps's death on March 19, 2014, the Satanic Temple expressed interest in holding a similar ceremony for the church founder.
In 2014 the Satanic Temple began a crowdsourcing campaign on Indiegogo for a Satanic monument depicting Baphomet with two children, with the intention to display this monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol. The group's fundraising page stated that the statue was to be erected in response to a then-present Ten Commandments monument installed by Oklahoma State Representative Mike Ritze in 2012. The campaign was successful but the Temple's plans were derailed after the Ten Commandments monument was destroyed in 2014, as the Temple did not feel that it was appropriate to only have the Baphomet statue present. The following year, in 2015, the satanic monument was unveiled at the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple amidst protests by religious organizations. Vice reported that the 700 attendees at the unveiling ceremony had to sell their souls to Satan in order to receive a ticket, a tactic that the Temple stated was done in order to "keep away some of the more radical superstitious people who would try to undermine the event."
Time noted that "the group does not 'promote a belief in a personal Satan.' By their logic, Satan is an abstraction, ... 'a literary figure, not a deity — he stands for rationality, for skepticism, for speaking truth to power, even at great personal cost.' Time magazine also commented on the statue's unveiling, writing "Call it Libertarian Gothic, maybe — some darker permutation of Ayn Rand’s crusade for free will. One witnesses in the Satanic Temple militia a certain knee-jerk reaction to encroachments upon personal liberties, especially when those encroachments come with a crucifix in hand. The Baphomet statue is the Satanic Temple’s defiant retort du jour."
The Protect Children Project is an initiative launched by the Satanic Temple in the spring of 2014. The project's aims are stated to offer "First Amendment protection to support children who may be at risk for being subjected to mental or physical abuse in school by teachers and administrators through the use of solitary confinement, restraints, and corporal punishment." The Protect Children Project's website asked participants to print out pre-written letters to send to their respective school boards on a day designated as "Protect Children Day" as a form of protest. In March of 2017 the Satanic Temple launched an anti-spanking campaign against corporal punishment in schools, as part of the Protect Children Project. They unveiled billboards in Texas which read "Never be hit in school again. Exercise your religious rights."
On August 22, 2015 the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple held a counter-protest outside of a Ferndale Planned Parenthood location in response to anti-abortionist groups that were planning to protest Planned Parenthood on that same date. As part of the protest the Temple held a guerrilla theatre performance that included two men dressed as clergy pouring milk on kneeling actresses. This was not the first protest of this type that the Temple had held in support of the organization, as they had previously held a 2013 protest where they brought children to the Texas State Capitol who chanted "Fuck You" and "Hail Satan", while holding signs reading "Stay Out Of My Mommy's Vagina".
On April 23, 2016, members of the Detroit chapter of the Temple counter protested the Citizens for a Pro-Life Society's protest of Planned Parenthood. Temple members dressed in bondage fetish clothing, wearing baby masks and diapers while engaging in flagellation. The Temple claimed that the reason for the protest was to "expose the anti-choice protest as an act of fetal idolatry, highlighting the fetishization and abstraction of the 'baby.'"
In November 2015 the Temple received media attention for offering to take in Muslims or refugees that were afraid of experiencing backlash over the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.
The Temple's Los Angeles Chapter has also protested the canonization of Junípero Serra by Pope Francis and in October 2015 they held a ceremony where they "demonized" the Christian missionary, stating that Serra helped enslave thousands of Native Americans and that he "also led The Spanish Inquisition in his territories, trying residents of the Missions for the crimes of sorcery, witchcraft and devil worship."
On June 6, 2016, the Temple performed a Pentagram Ritual around the California city of Lancaster in Los Angeles County to protest Mayor R. Rex Parris calling it a Christian city. TST was met with hundreds of protestors. A sky writer was hired to draw a cross over the protest, but ended up looking like an upside down one. The event trended on Twitter. A 60 Second Doc on the event has garnered nearly three million views. The event was to also support California State Senate candidate Steve Hill who is the first person to run openly as a Satanist. Hill received 13% of the vote, more than one Republican candidate. The Temple issued a video of the event.
On January 14, 2017, a week before the Trump inauguration, the Temple hosted what it billed as the largest Satanic gathering in history, hoping to double the attendance of the 2015 gathering in Detroit for the Baphomet unveiling. Film crews from VICE and NatGeo were on hand to document the event. Hard Working Movies is making a feature length documentary about the Temple. The mass included three parts: Invocation Ritual, Destruction Ritual and a Bloodletting Ritual. Local Los Angeles media was also on hand to cover the event, calling the event "a bloody good time".
In September 2014, Jex Blackmore (pseudonym) launched a chapter of the Satanic Temple in Detroit, Michigan. She held a membership and information booth at the community festival Dally in the Alley, where she reported that she received good support and turnout. On December 21 of that same year the chapter constructed a holiday display for "Snaketivity" on the lawn of the Michigan State Capitol as a way to counteract and protest a nativity scene that was placed on the state grounds only days earlier. The holiday display depicted a snake, a pentagram, a book, and a cross with the words “Knowledge is the Greatest Gift of All” prominently displayed. In 2015 the chapter commented that they were interested in re-erecting the Snaketivity display or a similar live display after learning that United States Senator Ted Cruz planned to host a live nativity scene at the Capitol on December 19.
Blackmore has stated that the chapter has a core group of about 15 to 20 followers, depending on the project, and that "there's another group, depending on the activity or what we're doing, that's about one tier larger -- probably about 50 or more." The chapter does not have a physical office or building and operates primarily out of rented or borrowed spaces along with other locations.
Leader Lucien Greaves has described the Temple as being a progressive and updated version of LaVey's Satanism. The Temple has stated that they see themselves as separate and distinct from LaVeyan Satanists, as they feel that their principles and tenets represent "a natural evolution in Satanic thought". Greaves has claimed that the elements of Social Darwinism and Nietzscheanism within LaVeyan Satanism is incongruent with game theory, reciprocal altruism, and cognitive science. He has also criticized the Church of Satan for its lack of political lobbying and what he sees as their exclusivity, referring to them as autocratic and hierarchical, and claiming that the Church fetishizes authoritarianism.
The Satanic Temple has received criticism for their actions, most notably from religious organizations and figures. Many critics state that they believe that the Temple is not a serious organization and is instead meant to be a prank, form of satire, or elaborate trolling attempt. Greaves and Blackmore have both dismissed these claims, as Greaves stated in a 2013 interview with Vice that he believed that the Temple could be both satanic and satirical. Blackmore has also stated that people believe that they are only "trying to cause trouble for no reason except to just be shocking" but what they say that they are doing is "adding to the dialogue that's already there and asking for rights -- just like anyone else."
Both Greaves and Blackmore have stated that they have received death threats in response to their activities with the Satanic Temple.