Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 15, 2014

House of Burgess: Shut the door, keep out the Devil

Satanists ask Oklahoma for equal rights.

By Rob Burgess
Tribune columnist

— If you’ve read more than a few of my columns, you should already know by now one of my favorite subjects is the initial passage of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

As I covered in my April 17, 2013 column, “Believe; It may be law soon,” North Carolina Republican lawmakers fruitlessly attempted to institute a state religion. And as I previously reported in both the summer (June 19, 2013) and winter (Dec. 18, 2013) editions of my “War on Christmas” columns, legislators in Texas — and possibly Louisiana and Oklahoma soon — have effectively implemented so-called “Merry Christmas” laws.

I am a staunch defender and complete literalist when it comes to the Establishment Clause’s 16 words. In most instances, the groups or individuals who have attempted — and sometimes succeeded — violating this basic American tenet are of the fundamentalist Christian stripe. Because of this, I know I run the risk of coming off as being especially hard on one particular group.

However, another brewing controversy, also in Oklahoma, should prove my previous concerns regarding the separation of church and state valid. Before you read any further, remember: I was only trying to help.

“Since 2012, a monument dedicated to the Ten Commandments has sat outside the Capitol building in Oklahoma City, dedicated by state representative [and ordained deacon] Mike Ritze,” reported Slate’s Aisha Harris Friday. This representation of Moses’ tablets already has raised recent legal challenges.

“The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma Foundation filed a lawsuit today on behalf of several Oklahomans challenging the constitutionality of the state’s Ten Commandments Monument,” began the ACLU’s Aug. 20, 2013 press release. On Dec. 8, the Satanic Temple, a newly formed religious group, asked for equal representation at the Oklahoma Capitol as it applied for a permit and launched an online campaign to raise $20,000 for their own memorial “to complement and contrast” the Ten Commandments shrine.

(As of today, the fundraiser has 72 hours left and already has exceeded its original goal by more than $6,000.)

“The 7-foot-tall sculpture would feature Satan depicted in the form of Baphomet, a bearded, goat-headed, winged hominid with horns seated on a throne beneath a pentagram with two smiling children to either side,” reported the Associated Press and Time Magazine’s Denver Nicks Jan. 7. “In addition to representing the Satanic religion, the monument ‘will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation,’ said Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves.”

I am not a Satanist, I don’t worship the Devil and I’m about as disturbed as most Oklahomans probably are by the prospect of a creepy Baphomet statue being erected on public land. I see the Satanists’ point, though.

“Greaves is confident that his opponents, which include Oklahoma lawmakers, don’t have much of an argument against his group,” reported Harris. “Their reasoning, Greaves says, has changed multiple times.”

The only equitable way I see to stop these followers of the Prince of Darkness from succeeding is to take all the religious statues off public land and call it a day. Otherwise, if you’re going to put one historical religious symbol up, make way for everyone else; it’s only fair.

Since 1993, the Internal Revenue Service has recognized Scientology’s tax exempt status. Why not a likeness of L. Ron Hubbard next to the Decalogue and Old Scratch? If you’re going to splinter “the wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world,” as Roger Williams and later Thomas Jefferson put it, don’t be mad at whomever waltzes through after.

It’s not listed in the laws from Mount Sinai, but there’s another biblical maxim — also appearing in most major world religions — which I think applies to this situation: the Golden Rule. “And as ye would that men should do to you,” reads Luke 6:13, “do ye also to them likewise.”

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.