Skip to main content

The religious freedom of Satanists

Rolling Stone picks up on one of my favorite topics, what rises to the level of a constitutionally protected religious belief:

The Satanists announced this week that they're demanding exemptions to anti-abortion regulations — like Missouri's 72-hour state-mandated waiting period — claiming such measures violate their religious beliefs.

It's an obvious, and brilliant, ploy to test how serious conservatives are about their supposed belief that a person's "religious liberty" rights mean they can opt out of laws they simply don't like. The Satanists are trying to prove that conservatives are hypocrites whose interest in religious exemptions only applies to situations where they can take away someone's birth control, or ruin a same-sex couple's wedding.

This may look like trolling, and on some level it might be. But this gets to the heart of every other "religious freedom" issue that has come up recently. What is a belief that gets protection under the 1st Amendment? And assuming there are different beliefs out there, which gets preference when making policy?

The only way to say the satanist argument in this case is different than conservative's argument is to say either satanism isn't a religion or if they are, their belief about abortion restrictions isn't a "sincere religious belief". I'm sympathetic to the latter argument. But if the courts are going to say conservative arguments against contraception are legit then you have to say the satanist one is too. Satanism isn't quite the same as other traditional religions. But I don't see why they can't be defined as a religion and thus worthy of 1st Amendment protection.

That leaves us with two legit religious arguments trying to decide policy. This is why the 1st Amendment and the entire notion of a secular gov't were developed. The only fair way to make policy is to do so based on science. Making policy derived from one or the other religion would arguably violate the establishment clause. So while I agree with the satanists here, we can't repeal the abortion restrictions because they are against their beliefs. We should repeal them because they violate women's freedom over their body.