Members Only | February 13, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Turns out the Satanists aren’t really the good guys this time
The TST offers bad legal advice, writes Mia Brett.
The Satanic Temple is not the knight-in-shining-armor we’re waiting for. There’s no easy answer to the cruel, antiabortion policies being instituted. Most of us knew once Hillary lost there’d be little hope of keeping Roe. We’re exhausted. We want to believe someone’s going to swoop in. But it’s going to take a lot of hard work to protect abortion access in America.
Legal strategy around reproductive rights is complicated. Efforts that don’t consider their full ramifications can be counterproductive at best, harmful at worst. Abortion has broad support. It’s been a winning issue for Democrats.
The legal climate is murkier, though. Republicans have prioritized antiabortion legislation and antiabortion judges. We want our strategies to build on broad political support even if we need nuanced complicated legal arguments.
The legal protection of Christianity
The Satanic Temple (TST) is a “nontheistic” religious group whose mission is to “Encourage Benevolence And Empathy, Reject Tyrannical Authority, Advocate Practical Common Sense, Oppose Injustice, And Undertake Noble Pursuits.”
The religion doesn’t worship a supernatural Satan. It uses Satanic imagery to rebel against religious authoritarianism and promote secularism. The religion has a particular focus on opposing Christian privilege and hypocrisy. Actions are purposely performative and satirical, as if trolling Christian authoritarianism.
The TST has long tried to exploit the legal protection of Christianity to stress the hypocrisy of the law. They bring lawsuits, because legal protections granted to Christianity are usually not granted to Satanism and minority religions.
It feels particularly cathartic to see activists use a Satanist argument against a Christian-dominated legal system. When the TST kept their legal work pointing out Christian hypocrisy and protecting religious pluralism, they gained influence and support. However, their recent foray is getting increasingly harmful and those who once supported TST are speaking out against it.
Made-up religious exemption
Abortion support isn’t new for TST. Offering legal protection to abortion seekers is. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe, TST claimed on Twitter that “The Satanic Temple is the leading beacon of light in the battle for abortion access. With Roe v Wade overturned, a religious exemption will be the only available challenge to many restrictions to access.” The tweet included a link that takes you to a page claiming that: “In accordance with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), first trimester abortions are now exempt from unnecessary regulations for all individuals practicing The Satanic Temple’s religious abortion ritual” and a donation button.
This claim has no legal backing. It could put abortion seekers in legal jeopardy. The page includes a disclaimer that such a right has not yet been officially recognized by the courts, but still asserts that precedent supports the claim even though there is no controlling precedent on a religious exemption guaranteeing abortion access for any religion.
TST has admitted they will be compelled to sue to protect abortion rights, but oversimply assures people that the law is clearly on their side. Additionally, multiple cases have upheld RFRA only for federal laws and currently abortion regulations are all state level laws. Some states have passed their own versions of the RFRA, but not all, and TST’s website clearly cites the federal law.
It is also deeply misleading. TST puts itself forward as if its religious exemption strategy is the only way to protect abortion access. It drives money and resources away from reproductive rights organizations and abortion funds that have been doing this work for decades. It also spreads misinformation to score political points instead of directing vulnerable people to resources they need.
White saviorism and colonization
For Jezebel, Susan Rinkunas talked to Texas Equal Access Fund communications manager Denise Rodriguez, who said abortion seekers listening to TST put themselves at risk. An abortion fund serving Alabama and Mississippi, Yellowhammer Fund, said the same. TST is encouraging people to use their religious exemption form, but are not promising legal resources if things go sideways. There’s no assurance that TST would support or fund any lawsuits.
Anyway, an earlier legal challenge by TST was not a shining success. They recruited a plaintiff to challenge the 72-hour waiting period in Missouri. They intended to sue after Planned Parenthood refused to waive it for a satanist.
While TST raised money for the plaintiffs’ travel, a Missouri abortion fund paid for the actual abortion. Unfortunately, the plaintiff soon felt like a pawn in a performative fight for shock value that wasn’t prioritizing those who need abortions and the legal argument put forward by TST was dismissed in multiple courts. The public strategy by TST was also a focus on nationwide headlines rather than local actions in Missouri.
The latest effort by TST is to open a satanist abortion clinic called “Sam Alito’s Mom” in New Mexico. They claim they are responding to abortion clinics closing by providing telehealth abortion services to residents of New Mexico, if you perform the religious abortion ritual, and information to people nationwide.
Not only are they fundraising off this effort but they have an entire page of merchandise dedicated to it. There are no specifics about what donations will be used for and no promises that money raised from merchandise will go to funding the clinic. The thing is there are currently eight in-person abortion clinics and six virtual ones in New Mexico. Indigenous Women Rising, a New Mexico reproductive justice organization and abortion fund, has explicitly criticized this effort and called it an example of white saviorism and colonization.
More trolling, less protecting
The Satanic Temple is not your abortion white knight. They are not coming to save you. They are not our best hope. They are speaking over the heads of abortion seekers and repro justice experts, and touting themselves as the only option while raising money off their misinformation.
Their stunts, and even the name of their abortion clinic, show an agenda more concerned with trolling than protecting. Please don’t let them take time and resources away from abortion funds and reproductive justice organizations.
Mia Brett, PhD, is the Editorial Board's legal historian. She lives with her gorgeous dog, Tchotchke. You can find her @queenmab87.