The Satanic Temple has unveiled the design for a seven-foot-tall statue of goat-headed deity Baphomet that it would like to install outside the Oklahoma Statehouse. The statue would include figures of two smiling children and quotes from poets Lord Byron and William Blake.
The proposal is the latest in a string of public reactions by non-Christian groups to a one-ton granite block, placed on the grounds at the initiative of State Representative Mike Ritze, that displays the Ten Commandments. Others raising concerns include a Hindu leader in Nevada, People for the Ethical Treatent of Animals, and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
While many objectors have said that the Ten Commandments monument should be removed because it privileges Christianity over other belief systems, the New York-based Satanic Temple frames the issue as one of inclusivity. In an interview with Patheos.com's Friendly Atheist, Satanic Temple leader Lucien Greaves described the principle as it related to a bill passed in Florida that allowed "inspirational messages" in schools. "We took the position that SB 98 — while apparently an attempt to promote Christian beliefs in public schools — instead promoted religious diversity," Greaves said. "We applauded the proposition that Satanic students (or students of any religion) could now let their beliefs be known publicly to classmates who might otherwise never be educated about them."
The monument design released yesterday, Greaves said, "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."
Should Natives care about a Ten Commandments monument, much less a proposed statue of Baphomet, on the Oklahoma Statehouse grounds? It's just a hunk of rock — it doesn't mean that the legislature thinks it's in the business of enforcing Christian laws for a Christian populace, does it?
Unfortunately, that's exactly what the elected lawmakers in Oklahoma seem to be saying. “This is a faith-based nation and a faith-based state,” Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville) told the Tulsa World last month. “I think it is very offensive they would contemplate or even have this kind of conversation.” A spokesman for House Speaker T.W. Shannon said that "Anything displayed at the Capitol should be a representation of the values of Oklahomans and this nation. … The left-hand path philosophies of [the Satanic Temple] do not align with the values of Oklahomans nor the ideals this country or its laws are founded upon."
The state of Oklahoma was formerly known as Indian Territory, and numerous tribes — including the Five Civilized Tribes — are integral to Oklahoma's history and its identity. Many towns in Oklahoma double as capitals of Indian Nations, among them Pawhuska (Osage), Okmulgee (Muscogee – Creek), Durant (Choctaw), Ada (Chickasaw), and Tahlequah (Cherokee). Native imagery is everywhere in the state, including on the license plates of the cars Oklahomans drive. Those license plates have recently been the target of a court case in which a Methodist minister said they promote "pantheism, polytheism, and/or animism," beliefs that he, as a Christian, cannot be forced to endorse.
Oklahoma is also one of the states leading the charge to ban Sharia law, apparently concerned that its Muslims, which constitute 0.197% of the state's population, may be subverting its judicial system.
Is Christianity the dominant belief in Oklahoma — so dominant that nobody can reasonably object to a Ten Commandments monument at the Statehouse? Or are Christian beliefs vulnerable and under attack, so that license plates that reflect the state's Native history, and some specter of Sharia law, are threats worth addressing in court? It's hard to make the two strains of thought cohere.
This issue is not likely to die, as the Oklahoma Statehouse has said the Ten Commandments monument is permissible on grounds that it was created and installed with private — not public — funds. If anything, this gives the Satanic Temple a better argument for its own statue. If the state is not-endorsing Christianity with the privately-funded Ten Commandments statue, why then it might as well not-endorse Satanism as long as the taxpayers aren't paying for it. Funding seems to be taken care of — just moments before this article was posted, the IndieGoGo campaign for the Satanist statue met its $20,000 goal.
If the Satanic Temple's privatley-funded statue never comes to pass, perhaps something less flashy will. That's what happened in Starke, Florida, last summer, where an American Atheists monument now stands at the Bradford County Courthouse as a counterpoint to a Ten Commandments tribute erected there by a Christian group. American Atheists said it planned to make another 50 of the granite structures to be placed in other locations. Next stop… Oklahoma City?