The Alabama State Capitol is colloquially known as “Goat Hill” because the building was constructed on a pasture where goats once grazed.
In recent weeks, however, the Iowa State Capitol took that pet name for itself after allowing the Satanic Temple of Iowa to display a statue of Baphomet, the goat-headed man representation of Satan, as part of the Capitol’s holiday display. As a federally recognized 501(c)3, the group asserts it is a non-theistic religious organization that does not believe in the existence of Satan, nor does it worship him.
The statue’s Capitol placement in early December sparked a significant debate, with many arguing for and against the display based on the Freedom of Speech, Free Exercise of Religion, and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment. Just as that debate began to gain steam nationally, a veteran named Michael Cassidy peacefully beheaded the Baphomet statue on Dec. 14, spilling its innards to reveal foam pool noodles and balled-up grocery bags.
The Satanic Temple, which frames this as a matter of their right to religious expression, quickly replaced the statue and obtained a fourth-degree criminal mischief charge against Cassidy. Many conservative groups and public figures such as Turning Point USA and Matt Walsh have donated to Cassidy’s legal fund, raising $20,000 within just three hours. In an interview with the “Sentinel,” Cassidy said,
“The world may tell Christians to submissively accept the legitimization of Satan, but none of the founders would have considered government sanction of Satanic altars inside Capitol buildings as protected by the First Amendment. … I saw this blasphemous statue and was outraged. My conscience is held captive to the word of God, not to bureaucratic decree. And so I acted.”
Cassidy’s best impression of Saint Boniface chopping down Donar’s Oak, which was worshipped by Germanic pagans, has sparked the First Amendment debate even more. Leaving aside the propriety of Cassidy’s civil disobedience, there are several important questions to explore:
Does the First Amendment allow a display of Satan on public property?
Does it require it if there are other religious displays such as a Nativity scene?
Is it “Christian Nationalism” to say that a public display of Satan does not have to be tolerated under the First Amendment?
These questions have split conservatives and Christians into a few camps. Some believe that such a display should be tolerated as a matter of the First Amendment and/or Christian teaching. Some are willing to accept it if there is equal treatment for Christian displays. Others assert that opinions that differ from these are insidious symptoms of “Christian Nationalism,” which should not be tolerated lest America becomes a Christian nation again.
To answer these questions, we should follow the Supreme Court’s instruction for Establishment Clause claims after Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (2022) and ask what the Founders would tell us. Is Cassidy right in asserting that the Founders would not have tolerated Satanic altars on public property?
The answer is a clear yes.
At the time of the American Founding, 98% of colonists identified as Protestant Christian; 1.8% as Catholic; and the other .2%, about 2500, as Jewish. At least nine of the 13 original colonies had established churches of various denominations, and the last of these was only disestablished in 1832. In the process of claiming independence and instituting a new government, the Founders cited the Bible more than any other book or thinker.
Upon adoption, the First Amendment’s protection of religious exercise and protection against the establishment of religion did not apply to the states. Every state – even those with established churches – already had protections for religious liberty. The First Amendment was included only to assuage Anti-Federalist concerns that the new federal government would take power not delegated to it, upending states’ individual authority.
While there were disagreements over state-established churches, the objections centered on the idea that they inhibited, rather than aided, the spread of Christianity. Even among the Founders who disfavored state-established churches, there was a practically universal promotion of Christianity in the public square.
Furthermore, even Thomas Jefferson, credited with the infamously misconstrued “separation of church and state” phrase in his “Letter to the Danbury Baptists,” made public calls for prayer and fasting as Governor of Virginia and drafted a bill to punish those who broke the Sabbath. As President, two days after writing the Danbury Baptists letter, Jefferson attended a church service held in the U.S. House of Representatives and conducted by a Baptist minister who opposed religious establishments.
President John Adams stated, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The Constitution as written by the Founders will always be inadequate to those who hate God and reject natural law. If the Founders saw a statue of Satan in the Capitol building, their first reaction might be to think that we had lost a war, or several.
As we approach Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, Son of God, through traditions our forefathers honored and rejoiced in, I’m reminded they knew that we wrestle against the rulers of the darkness of this world and spiritual wickedness in high places. They also knew that Jesus is the victory that has overcome the world and that those who believe Jesus is the Son of God shall overcome the world.
With that in mind, what the Founders would do when faced with an idol of Satan in the halls of government seems pretty self-evident to me.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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