On the grounds of the Texas state capitol building, a monument of the Ten Commandments stands near the rose garden. At the Oklahoma state capitol, a controversial Ten Commandments statue was erected in 2012, and another religious group is making an attempt to add another monument to the Oklahoma capitol grounds. According to the group submitting the proposal claims the new monument will be a symbol of religious freedom, embodied by a “7-ft.-tall (2.1 m) sculpture would feature Satan depicted in the form of Baphomet, a bearded, goat-headed, winged hominid with horns seated on a throne beneath a pentagram with two smiling children to either side” (Oklahoma: Satanic Temple Unveils Monument for Capitol | TIME.com).
The Satanic Temple – the New York based group behind the proposal – believe if the Ten Commandments can sit on the capitol grounds, there is no reason any other religious monuments cannot be erected as well. Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the Satanic Temple, told the L.A. Times that, “more than anything, we feel our monument is meant to be a historical marker celebrating the scapegoats, marginalized and demonized minority” (LA Times, Jan 2014). The ACLU has come out in support the religious group’s mission – though the ACLU’s goal is to keep church and state separate, Brady Henderson (the legal director of the Oklahoma chapter) says when these situations do arise, they fight for religious neutrality. The ACLU is currently suing the State of Oklahoma to remove the Ten Commandments monument, and that lawsuit is pending.
There are plenty who oppose the proposed statue of Satan, including many Oklahoma lawmakers. Joe Griffin, the communications director for Oklahoma’s speak of the House told the L.A. Times that “displays at the Capitol are intended to represent the values of the people of Oklahoma and memorialize those who have worked to build and preserve our freedoms,” and that “this proposed monument does not meet those standards and, in this office’s opinion, is not appropriate at the Capitol” (LA Times, Jan 2014). Brian Bingman, Senate President Pro Tempore, has state that the Satanic Temple’s proposal is likely to be “nothing more than a political stunt that would not be in keeping with the traditions and values of Oklahomans” (LA Times, Jan 2014).
Even with Oklahoma politicians speaking out against the monument, people from around the country are supporting the Satanic Temple – through Indiegogo, the group has raised more than $20,000 in just a month. Many Americans are also vehemently opposed to the idea, and agree with Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville), who was quoted saying, “This is a faith-based nation and a faith-based state…I think it is very offensive (the Satanic Temple) would contemplate or even have this kind of conversation” (Deseret News, Dec 2013).
This monument proposal has again sparked the age-long debate about the relationship between government and religion. Like the ACLU, I would hope that when religions are given monuments or prayers or holidays in the political sphere, they are treated equally. I know, of course, that this is rarely the case in the United States – millions of are convinced the U.S.A. has always been, and will always be, a Christian Nation, even in the face of growing religious diversity in every state. Until we teach pluralism in our schools, until we recognize that we can accept religious beliefs of all sorts without approving of it, and until we understand that the Founding Fathers did not want to form an exclusively Christian nation will these monument proposals cease to be surrounded by controversy.
What will we be shocked about next time – a monument of the Torah? A statue of a Hindu god or goddess? We will never all be on the same page, one of the beauties of humanity is that we are all individual thinkers, but maybe we can get in the same chapter…or at least the same book.