As part of the wave of tearing down symbols of historic racism., Mississippi State Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, signed legislation last month ordering the “prompt, dignified, and respectful” removal of the state flag bearing the rebel symbol from all state property.
Mississippi was the only state whose flag contained the Confederate battle flag, adopting it in 1894, nearly three decades after the Civil War. 64% of voters reaffirmed the flag in a 2001 referendum.
In the wake of the race riots sweeping across the country, Reeves decided to introduce the new legislation calling to redesign the flag.
“I know there are people of goodwill who are not happy to see this flag change,” Reeves said. “They fear a chain reaction of events erasing our history — a history that is no doubt complicated and imperfect. I understand those concerns and am determined to protect Mississippi from that dangerous outcome.”
Both chambers of the state legislature voted overwhelmingly for the legislation. Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, and House Speaker Philip Gunn selected a nine-member commission to decide on a new design for the flag, which must contain the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will approve or reject the design by referendum in November. If approved, the new flag will be ratified and flown next year. If not, the commission will meet again and decide on a new design.
But apparently this plan to redesign the flag is not acceptable to everyone. Marc J. Randazza of Randazza Legal Group wrote in a recent letter to the attorney general of Mississippi, Lynn Fitch, that his client, the Satanic Temple, “has asked us to bring an issue of constitutional importance to your attention.”
“We understand that your state is planning to take the very positive step of removing the Confederate battle flag from the Mississippi state flag. However, it is our understanding that the proposal calls for it to be replaced with ‘In God we Trust’, a proposal you seem to endorse. While the Satanic Temple supports the removal of the Confederate flag, removing one divisive symbol of exclusion only to replace it with a divisive phrase of exclusion does not eliminate exclusion, but rather moves it from one group to a collection of others. My client would like to suggest that if Mississippi is going to place a religious phrase on its flag, it should include a reference to Satan.”
“Before you handwave this idea away, I would like to draw your attention to the seven tenets of the Satanic Temple. The Seven Tenets seem to be more consistent with Mississippian values than even the Ten Commandments”
The attorney claims that the Biblical prohibition against murder, can be equated to capital punishment according to Mississippi law. As another example of the state’s legislation contravening Biblical law, the attorney pointed out that the Biblical prohibition against graven images would violate the first amendment rights of free expression.
The Seven Tenets of the Satanic Temple are as follows:
- One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
- The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
- One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone. (It should be noted that the Satanic Temple bases its support of abortion on this tenet. Abortion is legal in Mississippi, which would mean that Mississippi law is more consistent with this principle of the Satanic Temple.)
- The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
- Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
- People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
- Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word
“As you can see, none of the tenets should be controversial with respect to representing all Mississippians. On the other hand, we can imagine that there would be some Mississippians who would be a bit put off by the words ‘In Satan We Trust’ on the state flag. If you can imagine that, then you might imagine how atheists, Satanists, and other people of nontheistic faiths could feel excluded by the addition of ‘In God we Trust’ to the state flag.”
Randazza cited the 1979 case of O’Hair vs. Blumenthal which challenged the use of the phrase ‘In God We Trust’ on US currency. “In God We Trust” first appeared on U.S. money in 1864 and became the national motto in 1956. In the case, the Supreme Court ruled that having the motto on U.S. currency doesn’t violate the First Amendment but Randazza believes his current case is “distinguishable” and, according to The Hill, would “move forward with that understanding.”
The Satanic Temple, founded in 2013, has used frequently used the court system to insinuate itself into American culture. In 2018, the Satanic Temple protested a Ten Commandments display outside the Arkansas State Capitol by wheeling out a statue of Baphomet, an androgynous goat-headed demon with wings. The statue featured the Satanic symbol surrounded by adoring children.
The Satanic Temple denies any belief in a personal Devil and maintains instead that “to embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions,” according to its website.