The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this month in a case that challenges two of the state's abortion restrictions, the three-day waiting period and the requirement that abortion providers give patients a booklet that defines life as beginning at conception.
Many such restrictions have gone in front of the court for years. What is unusual about this case is the name of the group that the plaintiff is a part of: The Satanic Temple. The southeast Missouri woman and the group argue that the rules prevent her from practicing her faith.
The organization has been inserting themselves in cases across the country, from trying to get a statue on the Arkansas Capitol grounds to counter a Ten Commandments monument (which was destroyed by a driver not long after it went up) to allowing Satanists to say prayers at city council meetings. To learn more about this group, KCUR's Kyle Palmer spoke with David Embree, a professor of religious studies at Missouri State University.
Who, or what, is The Satanic Temple?
It's a really interesting organization because they don't necessarily believe in an actual "Satan." Essentially, Satan is their figurehead, but most of their agenda is human freedom, letting people do what they will. They are also big on science. This woman's argument (in the Missouri abortion case) is seemingly in line with their idea that we should do whatever is the best suggestion of science.
Where are they based?
They're based in Salem, Massachusetts, which has further confused the furor over the years. They have nothing to do with the Salem witch trials and, indeed, would raise that up as demonstrative of the evil that can be done in the name of religion against people who are "alternative." And yet, that is where they very deliberately chose to place their headquarters.
What are some other tenets of their faith?
Their whole agenda is making the world a better place, providing freedom, freeing people from the tyranny of religious thought. And they envision Satan as the kind of ultimate rebel, the being who is not going to be conformed to other people's thinking, who is going to stand on his own principles. They seem to have very little in the way of ritualized dogma. They have principles by which they want to live but they're not necessarily metaphysical principles beyond saying, "We should trust science." And they're not necessarily moral principles beyond saying, "We should do what's right."
Missouri is not the only place The Satanic Temple is garnering attention, primarily for challenging laws and polices — like Missouri's abortion laws — that are generally seen as more socially conservative.
Indeed, it's a group I would describe as primarily oppositional. Most of what they are known for is challenging things like Bible clubs in schools. Or in both Oklahoma and Arkansas, for instance, they have challenged models and representations of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Capitol, and in both cases have proposed statues of Baphomet, a Satan figure, to also be represented on those grounds. They are kind of poking conservatism in the eye. That seems to be a high priority.
Those who oppose what they're trying to do have criticized their work as stunts or political theater. How do they respond?
On their website, they actually address that, saying this isn't a stunt or political theater but they are trying to raise real issues. Their wording is very much (portraying themselves as) crusaders for freedom. They throw in a lot of words like justice and freedom. Their words aren't value-neutral, but ultimately for them it seems to be about freedom and choice.
Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster. You can follow him on Twitter.