OKLAHOMA CITY — Lots of lawmakers have been accused of devilish behavior, but Oklahoma’s state capitol may become the first to actually have a monument to Satan.
If a New York-based group called the Temple of Satan gets its way, a statue of the Evil One would sit next to the newly erected 10 Commandments monuments on the capitol grounds.
“They said they wanted to be open to different monuments,” said Lucian Greaves, a spokesman for the Temple of Satan, “and this seems like a perfect place to put that to the test.”
The Temple of Satan is less religious body organized around rituals and regular meetings and more a roving band of political provocateurs, said Greaves. Satan is a “literary construct,” the spokesman said, not an actual being with horns and hooves.
The Temple of Satan has organized a gay and lesbian kiss-in at the gravesite of the mother of anti-gay preacher and activist the Rev. Fred Phelps. It also held a rally at Florida’s state capitol in support of a law that allows “inspirational messages” at public school assemblies. “It allows us to spread the message of Satanism,” which centers around respect for diversity and religious minorities, said Greaves.
Oklahoma legislators voted to erect the Ten Commandments monument in 2009, using private funds donated by Rep. Mike Rietz, a surgeon and Southern Baptist deacon. Rietz declined to comment on Monday, citing an ongoing suit by the American Civil Liberties Union over the monument.
Hiram Sasser of the Liberty Institute, a Christian firm defending the Oklahoma legislators’ monument, said it is an exact replica of one that stands at the Texas statehouse, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2005.
“It would be really bizarre if Texas can have it but Oklahoma can’t,” Sasser said.
Rep. Bob Cleveland, who has said he will introduce a bill that would allow public school teachers and staff to wish one another “Merry Christmas,” told CNN that he’s not in favor of the Satanist’s proposed statue.
“I believe that only monuments that reflect Oklahoma values should be allowed on capitol the capitol grounds,” Cleveland said in an e-mail on Monday.
But if Christians and Jews can have their monument to the 10 Commandments, then Satanists must be allowed to erect their own statue, said Brady Henderson, legal director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s Oklahoma chapter.
“We feel like the Satanic Temple has a very strong argument to say that, if the state allows one religious monument, you have to allow others,” Henderson said.
Oklahoma’s statehouse grounds already has monuments honoring its heritage and Native American history, said Trait Thompson, chair of the Capitol Preservation Commission.
“Individuals and groups are free to apply to place a monument or statue or artwork,” Thompson said. The commission then determines whether the proposal abides by its standards and votes on whether to approve it.
Greaves said he’s received the required forms from Oklahoma’s Capitol Preservation Commission and is working on a design that will meet its standards.
“We want something big and bold that will be able to stand up to the weather or whatever other kinds of assaults,” that may target the monument, he said. “My favorite idea right now is an object of play for children. We want kids to see that Satanism is where the fun is.”
Not all Satanist groups see the fun in political provocations, however.
Magus Peter Gilmore, head of the Church of Satan, which was founded by Anton LaVey in 1966, said he believes in strict separation of church and state.
“Rather than placing multiple ‘advertisements’ for various religions, we think it best for the (10 Commandments) monument to be removed to private property and that there be no objects supporting religion of any sort placed on the statehouse grounds,” Gilmore said.
Earlier this year, Gilmore’s Church of Satan squared off against a British group of Satanists over abortion rights, after activists shouted “Hail Satan” to drown out anti-abortion activists at the Texas state capitol.