Earlier today, May 8th, an attorney for The Satanic Temple (TST) submitted a legal filing in Missouri opposed to anti-abortion legislation that, according to TST, constitutes a restriction of their free exercise of religion.
“Mary”, a resident of Missouri and member of The Satanic Temple, entered Planned Parenthood at approximately 9:30am seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Mary presented the clinic with a waiver of exemption, provided by TST, in an effort to bypass certain items of compulsory protocol deemed by her and TST to place an undue burden upon her religious beliefs. The exemption waiver was rejected, immediately prompting The Satanic Temple to file a petition for injunction against the Missouri’s Governor, Jay Nixon, and Attorney General Chris Koster.
Specifically at issue are state-mandated “informed consent” materials, medically irrelevant anti-abortion propaganda and a mandatory 72-hour (3 day) abortion waiting period. TST’s legal argument leverages the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — commonly popular among Christian conservatives who endorse it as essential to preserving the spiritual innocence of pious bakers who might otherwise be forced to bake cakes for Godless homosexuals — and the move is certain to provoke a firestorm of controversy and witticisms.
In fact, anticipation of TST’s filing has already provoked a number of op-eds and early debates. This past Wednesday, Rolling Stone
published a piece examining the hysterical ravings of 5 conservative authors who have already shown their hypocrisy in decrying TST’s free exercise claim, while harboring records of clear support for “religious freedom” only when it benefits their own beliefs.
While nobody can say for certain how this will play out in the courts, most analysts seem to agree that TST makes a strong case. Of course, some aren’t entirely optimistic. On Monday, The Washington Post
published a piece entitled ‘A Satanic Temple member says an abortion waiting period is against her religion. Would a court agree?’ in which the journalist took the opinion of one Thomas Berg, a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, who was quoted as saying, “I think it’s possible in theory for someone to raise a religious conscience argument for having an abortion, but it’s unlikely to matter much legally.”
“According to Berg, an expert on Religious Freedom Restoration Act-style laws, the Satanic Temple’s proposal essentially relies on the same question one would ask to determine whether the 72-hour waiting period violates the earlier decisions at the Supreme Court: Does the law impose a substantial burden on the individual seeking an abortion?”
Berg is correct that the “undue burden” challenge to waiting periods has been raised before, but he’s incorrect in assuming that our claim “essentially relies on the same question.” In fact, our argument is far more nuanced and unique. We argue that the “informed consent” materials are an affront to our guiding principles of self-determination and personal autonomy (beliefs which hold that a woman should be free to make “decisions regarding her health based on the best scientific understanding of the world, even if the science does not comport with the religious or political beliefs of others”). As such, the 72-hour waiting period — itself a burden upon our religious belief in the freedom to make decisions “voluntarily, without coercion and in an informed manner” — is moot and without justification. As the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling affirmed (in upholding Hobby Lobby’s right to believe that certain pharmaceuticals are abortifacients when, in fact, they are not) scientific legitimacy (or lack thereof) can be a matter for personal religious opinion to decide.
When we (The Satanic Temple) first announced, this past summer, that we were offering religious exemptions against “informed consent” propaganda, it provoked a number of speculative dialogues that were also predictably divided. Not surprisingly, legal scholars identified as hailing from traditional religious institutions insisted, often on laughably spurious reasoning
, that our exemption was meaningless. Clearly mistaking what they feel ought to be for what is, they gave an early warning as to how ludicrous the debate may soon become now that the exemption is actually to be tested. Other, more objective analysts — such as Cardoza Law Professor Marci Hamilton at the Justia blog
, and MSNBC’s Irin Cameron
— recognized the strength of our claim, especially now that “the Supreme Court has opened the door to more robust religious exemptions under RFRA.”
But, despite widespread interest and educated support for the legitimacy of our argument, we found it horrifically difficult to secure legal counsel on necessarily short notice. Most every referral and suggestion led us back to the ACLU, which has mysteriously chosen to ignore us entirely. Having exhausted all options we were aware of for pro bono representation, TST has had to retain legal counsel at our own expense, for which we hope to raise funds for here:
to The Satanic Temple’s Religious Reproductive Rights Campaign.
We are dedicated to seeing this case through, and we will fight — with every resource available to us — for bodily autonomy and personal sovereignty. No matter the outcome, however, we feel that The Satanic Temple has already done much to reframe the ongoing debate regarding Religious Liberty, its uses and limits. Suddenly gone are the days in which Religious Privilege seemed to exist to the benefit of a single creed. All at once, the all-too-numerous flagrant theocrats holding public office across the nation are made to sullenly realize that Religious Liberty isn’t theirs alone. Hail Satan.
Lucien Greaves is the pen name/pseudonym for Doug Mesner, spokesman for The Satanic Temple.