Satanists embracing constitutional controversy

Last week, the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City dropped its lawsuit against a local Satanist group over the use of consecrated hosts for a “Black Mass.” But that doesn’t mean Satanists have shied away from asserting their constitutional rights.

The latest controversy erupted earlier this month, when the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu announced plans to host a Satanic black mass at the Oklahoma City Civic Center.

Despite thousands of emails and phone calls calling for the event’s cancellation, Oklahoma City officials conceded that the group led by “high priest” and convicted sex offender Adam Daniels has the First Amendment right to rent the public space.

“We empathize, we understand where people are coming from,” Kristy Yager, the city’s director of public information, told Fox News. “There’s just nothing we can do without bringing a lawsuit which we would surely lose.”

Archbishop Paul Coakley, however, was not satisfied by that explanation.

“I’m disappointed by [the city’s] response,” he said. “If someone had come to them to rent the Civic Center to stage a burning of the Koran or to hold an event that was blatantly and clearly anti-Semitic, I think they might find a way to prevent it.

“Not all speech is protected if [it] is hate speech and it is intended to ridicule another religion,” Coakley added. “I don’t believe it is a free speech matter.”

Pointing to Supreme Court precedent dating back to 1940, UCLA professor Eugene Volokh said the law says otherwise.

“[S]peech intended to ridicule or insult another religion is entirely constitutionally protected,”he wrote for the Volokh Conspiracy. “Under the First Amendment, people are free to criticize, ridicule, parody, and insult religious belief systems, no less than other belief systems—whether they are Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Satanism, atheism, capitalism, Communism, feminism, or fascism.”

That 1940 case, Cantwell v. Connecticut, featured a father-son pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were arrested for violating local solicitation and peacekeeping laws after two passerby heard an anti-Catholic message on the duo’s portable phonograph. In a unanimous ruling, the Court held that the arrests were violations of the Cantwells’ free speech and free exercise rights.

On Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City struck back with a lawsuit—but only to reclaim the consecrated hosts obtained for use in the Satanist group’s black mass.

Citing the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law, attorneys argued that all consecrated hosts around the world are Church property—and therefore should be returned to their rightful owner.

“If an unauthorized individual has possession of a consecrated host, it must have been procured, either by that person or by another, by illicit means: by theft, fraud, wrongful taking, or other form of misappropriation,” said the archdiocese.

For his part, Daniels told VICE News that the host was acquired lawfully by mail from a Catholic priest in Turkey. Nevertheless, Judge Byron C. Dixon of Oklahoma County District Court ordered Daniels to preserve the hosts and to keep them within county limits until further notice.

The very next day, Daniels returned the hosts to the archdiocese, saying, “I refuse to waste thousands of dollars fighting over a nasty cookie that some man said a prayer over.”

“Without this sacred property, a Black Mass has absolutely no significance, so this group will not be able to hold its satanic ritual as planned,” said Michael Caspino, attorney for the archdiocese. “We stared down the devil and he blinked.”

Daniels, however, said the ceremony will still take place, with “coarse black bread” to be used in place of the hosts.

This is not the first time in recent memory that Satanists have sparked public controversy, nor is it the first time members of the faith have engaged with Oklahoma authorities.

In July, the New York-based Satanic Temple responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell by announcing that “informed consent” abortion laws are violations of their religious philosophy.

“The Satanic Temple believes that the body is inviolable subject to one’s own will alone,” the group’s website says, offering abortion seekers an exemption letter stating their objections. “We strive to make all decisions regarding personal health based on the best scientific understanding of the world, regardless of the religious or political beliefs of others.”

In May, a Harvard student group drew intense fire for hosting members of the Satanic Temple for a reenactment of the “black mass” on campus. The event ultimately took place, but only after organizers moved off-campus to a Chinese restaurant.

And in January, the Satanic Temple sought approval to build a monument honoring Satan on the front lawn of the Oklahoma state courthouse. The construction of new monuments is on hold, however, until an ACLU lawsuit challenging a Ten Commandments display is fully resolved.

Nicandro Iannacci is a web strategist at the National Constitution Center.

Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center is the first and only nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to the most powerful vision of freedom ever expressed: the U.S. Constitution. Constitution Daily, the Center’s blog, offers smart commentary and conversation about constitutional issues in the news, drawing insights from America’s history and a variety of expert contributors.