Satanic Temple’s risky secularist activism

Since its founding in 2013, the Satanic Temple movement has gained considerable publicity in its drive for strict church separation and de-Christianization, but its political effectiveness is uncertain, and it is just as likely to provoke a backlash, writes sociologist Joseph Laycock in the web magazine The Conversation (April 19). In its latest publicity campaign, the Satanic Temple linked up with the producers of popular period horror film The Witch, collaborating on a four city tour, called the Sabbat Cycle, where the screenings were followed by politically driven satanic rituals. Such sensational “stunts” are used to raise political awareness about what its leaders see as the dangers of conservative Christian influence in public life. But Laycock finds that some members insist that while the movement is atheistic, the group has adopted quasi-religious values, concerns, and symbols (such as Satan as a symbol of rebellion). The movement has also gained a steady following, now having 17 chapters in the U.S. and Europe, claiming an estimated 100,000 members—a number derived from membership cards purchased and other lines of online support. Laycock finds that the members tend to come from conservative Christian backgrounds and see their veneration of Satan as representing moral autonomy and personal responsibility.

The group has launched a wide range of actions, most recently citing various state laws based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to demand accommodations for Satanists, such as recently claiming exemptions from laws dictating a waiting period before having an abortion. But Laycock notes that the Satanic Temple’s campaign is leading to a backlash; conservative news sites, such as, have given the group heavy coverage, using their extreme rhetoric as fodder for anti-abortion activists. Conservatives claim the Satanic Temple proves what they have always said about their opponents being demonic. Meantime, more unchurched and secular populations may be indifferent to join such causes, though the more diverse generation represented by millennials may be more open to the movement’s critique, Laycock concludes.

(The Conversation,