Satan v. Christmas

Satanic Statue in Statehouse

The Illinois state house is displaying a statue by the Chicago branch of the Satanic Temple. The Satanists call the statue “Snaketivity” and they include a quote on it that says, “Knowledge is the greatest gift”.

The Illinois Secretary of State’s office posted a sign near the display stating:

“The State of Illinois is required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to allow temporary, public displays in the state capitol so long as these displays are not paid for by taxpayer dollars. Because the first floor of the Capitol Rotunda is a public place, state officials cannot legally censor the content of speech or displays. The United States Supreme Court has held that public officials may legally impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions regarding displays and speeches, but no regulation can be based on the content of the speech.”

This statement is however, dead wrong, when it comes to how the Constitution actually works.

The Real Constitutional Understanding

It begins by mingling two distinct areas of Constitutional law: freedom of speech and the establishment clause – what many refer to as “the separation of church and state”.

It is true that if this were a display called “who is a good candidate for president?” or “which political party is best” then yes, objectionable content could not be excluded – only time, place, and manner. When it comes to the establishment clause – “make no law respecting an establishment of religion” – the rules are slightly different. Long standing Supreme Court precedent tells us that no state can “advance nor inhibit religion” which is why Christian groups would not be allowed to display a nativity scene (Jesus, Mary, Joseph) without accompanying secular trappings such as trees or snowmen or reindeer, etc. Christian groups must water down their contributions from “religious” into a “holiday” before they can display them. Moreover, such is the case for this display in Illinois (see the tree and candy canes in the picture above). Christian groups are not allowed to “advance religion” in the state capitol.

Illinois is employing an illegal double standard

The same rule does not seem to apply to the satanic statue. Since the courts tell Christian groups not to “advance” religion then it makes sense that these same courts should tell satanic groups not to “inhibit” religion. Yet, in this display, that is exactly what they are doing. That is not my opinion, their GoFundMe campaign stated “The Satanic Temple—Chicago will no longer allow one religious perspective to dominate the discourse in the Illinois State Capitol rotunda during the holiday season. … Please consider what you may do to help us bring Satan to Springfield!”

Additionally, the display adds a sign from another group, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which states, “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” Sounds like inhibiting religion to me.

The state of Illinois is clearly taking sides in the issue of religion in that it prevents the Christian groups from advancing religion while openly permitting the Satanic and atheist groups to inhibit religion.

So how can we explain the actions by the Secretary of State of Illinois permitting this to occur? The press secretary for the office, Dave Drucker, reveals the real reason “our attorneys felt that there’s no question that it’s a First Amendment issue, and this group had a right to express their thoughts.”

The Constitution takes a backseat to avoiding legal fees

Emphasis should be placed on the phrase “our attorneys” for that explains the mystery. Attorneys, one should always remember, are not paid to be constitutional scholars expounding on principle and theory.

Attorneys serve but two purposes in this world – 1) to sue and 2) prevent suits.

With that in mind, I can easily imagine a conversation between the Illinois Secretary of State and his attorneys going something like this:

Secretary of State: “Do these other groups – the Satanists and the atheists – have the right to put up these displays”.

Attorneys: “No, they are inhibiting religion.  It would be unconstitutional for us to allow them to do so.”

Secretary of State: “So we should tell them no?”

Attorneys: “The opposite – tell the Satanists and atheists to go ahead and put up the displays”.

Secretary of State: “I don’t understand – why the contradiction”.

Attorneys: “If we tell them “no” then they’ll likely sue us. We will win, eventually, but it will cost us years of time and millions of dollars. On the other hand, the Christian groups are unlikely to sue, even though they have standing to do so. In short, the state is less likely to be sued in court if we side with the Satanists and atheists”.

In short, this is a classic example of what’s correct – and constitutionally right – taking second place to the overwhelming fear of lawsuits.

Never forget that the Constitution does not exist in a vacuum; rather, the demands of legal CYA often supersede it.

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