Satan Joins Holiday Display at the Illinois Capitol
Posted December 6, 2018 6:47 p.m. EST
Yes, Illinois, there is a Satan. If you’re looking for him, just check near the Christmas tree and the Menorah in the state Capitol.
It is there, among the twinkling lights and flickering candles, that you will find a tribute to the prince of darkness by the Chicago chapter of the Satanic Temple, a group based in Salem, Massachusetts, that has 15 chapters nationwide.
It looks a bit different from the pine boughs and mistletoe often associated with this time of year: a woman’s hand presenting an apple as a serpent coils around her wrist. A pentagram and the words “knowledge is the greatest gift” are written on the pedestal below.
The onyx-black statue has drawn criticism from people who think a mephistophelian tribute to the Fall of Man seems a little ... un-Christmaslike. But state officials said there was little they could do once the temple requested a spot in the holiday display, which was unveiled to the public Monday.
If it is true, as the saying goes, that the Devil is a liar, he also has the good fortune to have attracted followers with a keen understanding of both the Constitution and the outrage-driven internet news cycle.
In a statement, the Temple, which did not respond to messages seeking comment, said it “appreciates this constitutionally protected opportunity to contribute its perspective to the numerous religious viewpoints on display in the Capitol during the winter holiday season.”
David Druker, a spokesman for the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, said lawyers on staff agreed that the Temple had a right to participate in the display.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion under the First Amendment and forbids government endorsement of a specific religion. The Supreme Court has ruled that temporary holiday displays such as trees and menorahs are allowed on public property.
“If you allow people to convey some messages then you need to be consistent,” Druker said. “And the message itself — knowledge is the greatest gift — I don’t know that there is much controversy with that.”
The Satanic tribute is one of four in the Capitol rotunda, along with the Christmas tree, the menorah and a solstice display from an anti-religion group that includes a sign that says “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
The anti-religion group has been part of the holiday display for several years but has not drawn as much controversy as the Satanic Temple, Druker said. His office has received only a few complaints, he said, but some of them were “vociferous.”
“People feel strongly,” he said. “They say, ‘Satan is evil, how could we do anything that endorses him?’ And that wasn’t the intent.”
Religious groups and conservatives have been irked by the tribute. Some see it as a mockery of their beliefs, while others see forces at work that are larger than the First Amendment.
On Twitter — a veritable hellscape of its own — Illinois Family Action, a conservative group, said defenders of the tribute “fail to realize that the little baby in the manger has CRUSHED Satan’s head and the gates of hell will NOT prevail.”
But the Satanic Temple, which describes itself as “a nontheistic religious organization determined to halt the dangerous encroachment of theocracy into American government,” says it does not want the gates of hell to prevail.
In fact, the group says it does not “believe in the existence of Satan or the supernatural” at all.
“We do not promote a belief in a personal Satan,” the group says on its website. Instead, it refers to a “metaphoric representation” of “the literary Satan” found in the works of writers John Milton, Mary Shelley, William Blake and Anatole France.
For them, Satan is “a symbol of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority” and Satanism as a creed is based on a high-minded devotion to “rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions.”
The Temple also has a well-stocked online gift shop that features, among other items, a winged-crown-skull ring, a Krampus T-shirt and mug and a holiday ornament depicting Baphomet, a goat-headed, winged humanoid often seen as a stand-in for Satan (currently sold out).
The Temple raised money to build the Illinois statehouse statue, which it calls “Snaketivity,” on GoFundMe, where it also shared a video of a woman in white robes and facepaint singing a “Satanic holiday carol” while flanked by silent men in loincloths and goat masks. This is not the first time the Satanic Temple has used a statue to make a statement at a state house.
It has erected a “snaketivity” monument in the past, on the lawn of the Michigan statehouse, but is perhaps most well-known for its 9-foot tall statue of two children gazing lovingly at Baphomet’s goat head.
That statue was made to protest a permanent Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma statehouse that was later removed by court order. The temple also deployed it in Arkansas in August to protest a similar monument there.
The temple also sued Netflix last month for copyright infringement after a similar statue appeared on “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” The lawsuit was settled on undisclosed terms, but the temple said it would now be acknowledged in the credits.