This week, the state of Missouri’s draconian 72-hour waiting period for an abortion was in the spotlight again when a conservative state legislator made it clear he would try and stop a graduate student from studying the wait period’s impact on women.
But conservative Christians who have been pushing these ideologically-driven policies may have created their own demise without realizing it. The Satanic Temple sprung up to challenge the attempts to turn the United States into a Christian theocracy. And as the constitutional activists point out, they fight theocracy using the same laws and legal arguments pushed by conservative Christians.
“We’re fighting an enemy now that hasn’t had to think things through, and that’s what gives us such an advantage,” said Temple co-founder Lucien Greaves in an interview with The Raw Story. “They’re used to being the only beneficiaries of the privileges that they have fought for, and that kind of monopoly has made them complacent, stupid and weak, and it’s just made it that much easier for us to come in and assert ourselves the way we have.”
Republican state Sen. Kurt Schaefer sent a letter to the school demanding a wide range of documentation related to the study and accusing the student of helping Planned Parenthood. In Missouri, it’s against state law to use taxpayer money to encourage a woman to have an abortion, and the conservative had already bullied the school into dropping contracts with the women’s health provider to allow its medical students to do rotations there.
But the bully pulpit held by Schaefer and other right-wing Christians who have enjoyed a seeming unfettered ability to imbue policy with fundamentalist values may come to an end by a challenge they probably don’t see coming. The Satanic Temple is suing the state, saying its 72-hour abortion waiting period is unconstitutional.
“We really have a strong case, much stronger than Hobby Lobby,” Greaves said.
In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court allowed owners of for-profit corporations to be exempt from laws they believe do not conform to their religious views. In the case of Hobby Lobby, the company objected to health insurance to cover the cost of contraception.
Greaves points out the Christian victory in the Hobby Lobby case may well have laid the groundwork for a Satanic victory in Missouri.
“Nobody poured through biblical passages to see if you could make an argument that the Bible prohibits businesses from contributing to health care that would pay for contraceptives for an employee, and that’s a real far stretch,” Greaves said about the Hobby Lobby ruling. “It’s far less of a stretch to look at our seven tenets.”
The Temple’s tenets include the beliefs that a person’s body is subject to only their own will and that beliefs should be based on science.
The Temple had the opportunity use the courts to challenge the waiting period in Missouri because a member wanted to get an abortion, and was forced to undergo the waiting period, even though the Temple provided her with an exemption form saying it violated her religious views.
“The 72-hour waiting period is tied in with informed consent materials,” Greaves said. “In those informed consent materials are what we say are unscientific claims. They’re not supported by empirical evidence — claims like women getting an abortion have a higher risk of breast cancer, they have a higher risk of suicide — and it also has what we claim is an item of religious opinion, which is that life begins at conception. Because that’s not a religious opinion that we hold, we say that’s imposing a religious belief that we don’t agree with.”
Hobby Lobby made the Satanists’ case stronger because the judges ruled that the religious opinions of the company’s owners were more important than empirical scientific facts about birth control pharmaceuticals they were opposed to, Greaves said.
“It’s not up to us to show that [the claims in the informed consent materials are] not empirically supported, because the fact of the matter is that we believe that these are unscientific presumptions put in the informed consent materials, and Hobby Lobby set that precedent to really open that door for us to make the claim that much easier,” Greaves pointed out.
Greaves also tore into Schaefer for trying to stop the Mizzou student from researching the state’s waiting period.
“They feel that the truth is open to interpretation,” he said. “I think it shows that they don’t know how to look at the facts for themselves and discern what the truth is — that the truth is just a matter of ideological claim… When you don’t want that kind of research being done, you’re trying to manage the narrative and quell debate.”
The Satanic Temple has made a name for themselves by doing things like moving to put a brass, goat-headed Baphomet statue at the Oklahoma capitol to counter a Ten Commandments monument. The Temple only backed off when the state’s Supreme Court ruled the Christian monument there was unconstitutional.
“We have none of the budgeting or real estate they have, so when they try to put things on public property, that benefits alternative points of view,” he said. “They’re the ones pushing for these open forums, but they have no idea that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
He also said that religious lobbying groups with loads of money have set precedents, including Religious Freedom Restoration Act laws, that work in the Temple’s favor.
“The Liberty Council decries the things we do,” Greaves said, referring to the anti-gay religious law firm that represented Kentucky clerk Kim Davis. “But for all the things they’ve done to create us, we owe those assholes some kind of letter of thank you.”