Guest Post by Lucien Greaves (Ed. note, originally published for his Patreon subscribers. Republished with permission)
American Catholics protesting against the activities of The Satanic Temple have often given me opportunity to comment upon shifting power dynamics, historical ignorance, and the ease with which a minority voice, detecting that it has established the upper hand, can gleefully assume the role of an oppressor. The United States, largely colonized by Protestant dissenters against the Church of England, exhibited a strong anti-Catholic bias that was not uncommonly codified in colonial charters and laws, such as those that would prohibit Catholics from holding public office. With this in mind, I watched with a sense of smug disgust as the president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, once explained on Fox News that our Baphomet monument, then being offered to Oklahoma as a private donation to stand beside their 10 Commandments monument on the Capitol Grounds, was a “mockery” of some imaginary unified American religious values, certainly not to be tolerated in the name of legitimate Free Speech or Religious Liberty. Further adding to the disgraceful comedy, a Rabbi, Shmuley Boteach, opined that granting Satanists equal rights in an open forum was a slippery slope, “[now] what are we going to do? Slaughter goats and drink their blood in public?” (While the spectacle of a Rabbi opposing equal rights for another minority religion may seem hopelessly backward, the fact that he invoked goat sacrifice — an archaic Old Testament ritual practice — to do so is outright farcical.)
In 2014, when we announced that we would perform a “re-enactment” of a Black Mass, at the invitation of a student-led Cultural Studies club at Harvard University, Boston Catholics protested that this was nothing short of sanctioned hate speech. Wild accusations were hurled hysterically regarding the alleged immutable and intrinsic evil nature of Satanism; Assumptions were freely made regarding the content and purpose of our presentation, much of which had no basis in reality. Harvard faculty began to publicly weigh in, with President Drew Faust, to her credit, maintaining our right to speak, while pathetically attempting to console the aggrieved Catholics with her participation in the archdiocese’s counter-Mass against our wicked encroachment upon the institution’s spiritual sanctity. Christopher Robichaud, a Senior Lecturer of Ethics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government wrote in our defense:
“The idea that only religious activities that are inoffensive should have a legitimate place in the public arena is, to my mind, an untenable position […] In a pluralistic democracy that takes religious liberty seriously, the public’s tolerance of religious activities should not depend so crucially on the vicissitudes of public opinion. Religious liberty only for those who espouse the popular religious views of the day is really no liberty at all.”
Unmoved by pleas for tolerance, an estimated 1500 Catholics took to the streets of Cambridge in a solemn procession marked by the open weeping of participants.
The unsurprising upshot of all the controversy was a sudden massive renewal of interest in The Satanic Temple at a time in which media coverage of our Baphomet monument campaign was beginning to (thankfully) wane. What was originally designed to be a small-scale event for students, in which the re-enactment of the Black Mass was merely an entertaining bit of pageantry meant to accompany an academic exploration of witch-hunting folklore, from the Witches’ Sabbath to the Satanic Panic, suddenly became the most sought-after ticketed event in the Boston area, with representatives of press outlets worldwide querying desperately for access.
Had we merely been attempting to garner attention, as many had claimed, we’d have had much to thank the Boston archdiocese for. In both their insistence at providing The Satanic Temple with maximum controversy-fueled media coverage, and in their seeming utter ignorance of American Catholicism’s own history as a religious minority, I marveled at how, in a mere matter of generations, our Catholics felt themselves so comfortably privileged as to call for the censorship of a “lesser” religious voice.
When future historians write about the campus Free Speech debates that currently rage, the Black Mass controversy may be seen an early outbreak. I would like the record to show that The Satanic Temple’s position has always been clear and consistent, even when faced with speech that is disfavored and offensive to our own sensibilities.
Calls for censorship — especially today when sensitive materials are freely traded online — do more to elevate offending expression than to suppress it. Salman Rushdie, when I saw him speak in Cambridge (MA) a number of years ago, spoke candidly about the legacy of his novel The Satanic Verses — which he described as an Islamic version of [Russian literary master Mikhail Bulgakov’s] The Master & Margarita — the authorship of which earned Rushdie a fatwa death sentence pronounced by Islamists in Iran. Rushdie himself felt that the controversy surrounding The Satanic Verses overshadowed the literary merits of the work, which had ensured that it would immediately be loved or hated before it had even properly been read. Decades later, he felt, some critics were finally reading it for the first time, from a more objective perspective, and finding that they weren’t necessarily as taken with his work as earlier critics felt obligated to be when a segment of the Muslim world was actively calling for his head. The book’s critical acclaim, the author self-deprecatingly speculated, was primarily a result of its controversy. Of course, had it not been for the fatwa, many of us may have never learned about The Satanic Verses, or possibly Rushdie, at all.
Similarly, being relatively removed from the social media online outrage amplification machine, I likely would have not become aware of the alt-right’s intentionally provocative shock-comedian and former Breitbart News senior editor, Milo Yiannopoulos, had it not been for the well-covered violent and destructive protests that accompanied some of his college campus speaking engagements. One such protest, at UC Berkeley in February of 2017, saw molotov cocktails thrown, windows smashed, bystanders pepper-sprayed by protesters, and “at least six people injured.”
The short-sighted goal of preventing Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus was achieved, but the upshot was that he was suddenly propelled to a new level of celebrity, his online writings and video appearances almost certainly enjoying an (entirely predictable) explosion of new viewers. As journalist Glenn Greenwald notes,“Nothing strengthens hate groups more than censoring them, as it turns them into free speech martyrs, feeds their sense of grievance, and forces them to seek out more destructive means of activism.” The militant actions against Yiannopoulos gave him the opportunity to posture himself as a mere defender of liberty, an advocate for Free Speech. He didn’t have to deflect criticism toward his positions because there weren’t coherent criticisms to be discerned from the mindless bludgeonings, one-word epithets, and property destruction which were somehow meant to rebut him. (…Or were these things meant to prevent him from having an audience? Either way, the tactic was clearly counter-productive.)
Donald Trump, as he often does, took to Twitter to offer his opinion on the matter, suggesting that UC Berkeley, a public university, could suffer federal defunding for their failure to respect the Freedom of Speech: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
The irony here, of course, is that Trump is certainly no credible defender of Free Speech, especially where the press is concerned. As Thomas B. Edsall summarized in the New York Times, “Politicians have frequently questioned the neutrality and objectivity of specific journalists, their stories and their publications, but Trump has raised the stakes to a new level. He has described news organizations as ‘the enemy of the American people.’ He has routinely called reporters ‘scum,’ ‘slime,’ ‘dishonest’ and ‘disgusting.’”
Concerned First Amendment watch dogs seem to agree that Trump’s open hostility toward Free Speech (as opposed to the previous administration’s somewhat more covert hostility) is unique in modern history, surpassing even Richard Nixon’s famous acrimony toward the Fourth Estate. Because of his “threats to “open-up” U.S. libel laws, sue news outlets, and subject their broadcast licenses to review”, the Committee to Protect Journalists, an “independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide,” named Donald Trump a “winner” for “Overall Achievement in Undermining Global Press Freedom.”
Following a recent public uproar against comedian Roseanne Barr for a comment on Twitter in which she likened a black former aide for President Barack Obama to the product of a coupling between the “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes,” Trump expressed disappointment, not at Roseanne Barr, but at the television network ABC for cancelling her show while at the same time failing to apologize to him for “the HORRIBLE statements made and said” about him on the network.
If Trump can take the unlikely step of claiming to see hypocrisy in these circumstances, who is naive enough to believe that tighter restrictions upon any “offensive” speech wouldn’t likewise be used to the administration’s advantage? But, one might say, the distinction is clear. Trump is an individual, and a public official. He is not a minority group, and therefore he couldn’t claim protection from speech that offends.
True enough. However, Trump has proven to be a loyal servant to the Evangelical Theocratic Nationalists who, having been cultivating a narrative of persecution at the hands of secular tyranny, would be all too willing to take advantage of restrictions placed upon expressions of criticism and/or mockery that offends their faith. In some cases, GOP leaders have already seized upon the potential opportunities proposed by outcries for increased restrictions against hate speech, proposing resolutions that would formally recognize Black Lives Matter as a hate group, as well as other left-leaning groups that the typical advocate for Hate Speech restrictions would likely be quick to defend.
Satanism is a minority religion, and many of The Satanic Temple’s campaigns have broad ramifications for Civil Rights in general. We would do well to understand the history of Civil Rights and the role that Freedom of Expression contributed to its cause. As noted by University of Pennsylvania professor Jonathan Zimmerman, “[E]very great champion of African American freedom in our history — including Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, and Martin Luther King, Jr.– has also been a warrior for freedom of expression.” 
As Eleanor Holmes Norton, an African-American civil rights lawyer, and first woman to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and congressional representative in the District of Columbia stated, in reference to campus hate speech codes, “It is technically impossible to write an anti-speech code that cannot be twisted against speech nobody means to bar. It has been tried and tried and tried.” 
This unfortunate turning-of-tables, from policy efforts meant to protect minorities to opportunistic ploys to reaffirm dominance, is not some abstract hypothetical, and members of The Satanic Temple should easily recognize the relevance here to the troubled history of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), first conceived by the Clinton administration in an effort to protect minority religious practices (particularly Native American peyote-eating rites) from undue government interference (narcotic laws prohibiting the hallucinogen), now used to assert the rights of Christians to discriminate against people based upon their sexual orientation. Now, of course, The Satanic Temple utilizes RFRA in claims against religiously-motivated legislation (particularly anti-abortion laws) which inhibit us from acting upon decisions we’ve arrived at with deference to our tenets, much to the outrage of baffled theocrats who had already come to believe that RFRA was their tool alone.
More to the point, however, various countries that have instituted robust policies against hate speech have already seen unintended consequences benefitting the suppression of minority dissent, as meticulously catalogued by professor Cherian George of Hong Kong Baptist University, in a book he authored entitled “Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and Its Threat to Democracy.” The tactic of “Hate Spin,” or the manufacturing of offense for political advantage, the book explains, “involve[s] sophisticated campaigns manufactured by political opportunists to mobilize supporters and marginalize opponents. Right-wing networks orchestrate the giving of offense and the taking of offense as instruments of identity politics, exploiting democratic space to promote agendas that undermine democratic values.” George argues:
“that governments must protect vulnerable communities by prohibiting calls to action that lead directly to discrimination and violence. But laws that try to protect believers’ feelings against all provocative expression invariably backfire. They arm hate spin agents’ offense-taking campaigns with legal ammunition. Anti-discrimination laws and a commitment to religious equality will protect communities more meaningfully than misguided attempts to insulate them from insult.”
The pseudo-intellectual assault upon Free Speech currently being waged by a segment of the deeply misguided left often speaks derisively of “Free Speech absolutists,” and argues that these “absolutists” or “fundamentalists” often, or always, ignore the direct correlation between hateful speech and literature to hate crimes of a violent nature. This, I suppose, speaks to the unsurprising revelation that hate groups do indeed seem to gravitate toward and produce literature and speech that express the opinions they agree with. I find it difficult to believe that anybody actually denies this. However, this is only as convincing an argument as the one that claims a correlation between marijuana use and heroin addiction, or pornography and rape. That is to say, correlation does not establish causation, and plenty of people use marijuana without becoming addicted to heroin, and more people than will ever admit regularly view pornography, and they do so without committing sex crimes.
This is not to say that words do not have power — the power to enlighten and empower, as well as to misinform and instigate. It is for this reason that it is a mistake to equate offensive words with physical violence, thus bypassing any potential for discourse, as words have the power to correct and reconcile, while physical violence does not.
While the correlation between hateful speech and hate crimes may be a more complicated question than typically acknowledged, questioning the correlation between Free Speech and Democracy is insensible, as Free Speech is essential to Democracy, a vital and defining component. It is for this reason that the notion of imposing censorship upon offensive ideas in the name of preserving democracy is also fundamentally flawed, leading to such fruitless exchanges as:
“Q: How is it that you can support Free Speech for Nazis if you are not a Nazi?
A: Because I’m not a f*cking Nazi.”
In an interview on Democracy Now!, Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbookchose to answer a rather uncertain and unclear question regarding Free Speech and Democracy with a dishonest bit of grandstanding:
“The question of how to confront fascism, I think, always has to come back to discussions of the 1930s and 1940s. Clearly we can see that rational discourse and debate was insufficient […]if you don’t think it’s appropriate to physically confront and to stand in front of neo-Nazis who are trying to organize for another genocide now, do you do it after someone has died? […] do you do it after a dozen people have died? Do you do it when they’re at the footsteps of power?”
Bray’s answer indicates that he is as ignorant of current speech laws as he is ignorant of the history of the rise of the Nazi party in the Weimar Republic. In fact, Free Speech isn’t now, nor has it ever been, “absolute” in the United States, and the Emergency Principle holds that the government can “punish speech when it directly causes specific imminent serious harm, such as constituting a genuine threat, targeted harassment or ‘bullying,’ or intentional incitement of imminent violence.” Openly plotting and preparing a mass murder on the scale of full-fledged genocide would surely warrant intervention, while speech that is disfavored or offensive does not. Rational Free Speech advocates do not object to the Emergency Principle. Allowing the government to make broad subjective evaluations regarding types of speech that presumably may ultimately lead a group or individuals to engage in harmful and illegal behaviors is, however, antithetical to the Free Speech position.
Bray’s ignorance of the history of the Nazi Party’s rise is apparent in the fact that the Weimar Republic did, in fact, prosecute “hate speech,” and were not remiss in applying their anti-hate speech standards against anti-semitic expression. In the same way Antifa propelled Yiannopoulos into outsized celebrity, some historians found that the Nazis greatly benefitted from the exposure they gained from prosecution against their publications. In the journal Policy, Steve Edwards writes:
“There is little historical basis to the claim that the Weimar Republic was a bastion of free speech, tragically overwhelmed by unfettered Nazi agitation. Paragraph 166 of the Weimar Criminal Code stated ‘whoever publicly insults one of the Christian churches or another existing religious society with rights of corporation in the federal jurisdiction, its institutions, or customs … will be punished with a prison term of up to three years’ (emphasis added). This included hate speech against Jews, and there were plenty of such convictions under Paragraph 166 and other provisions. For example, the oft-prosecuted Nazi publisher Julius Streicher (author of the anti-Semitic weekly newspaper Der Sturmer and a contemptible and marginal individual widely hated by his own party colleagues), was handed a two-month prison sentence in 1929 for ‘libelling the Jewish religion under Paragraph 166 of the Weimar Penal Code.’ As a result of the jail sentence, ‘Streicher’s racial views received more publicity than if Der Sturmer had been allowed to publish unchallenged … within weeks of the verdict, the Nazi Party tripled its 1927 vote in the Thuringian Landtag elections’—an outcome that should give pause to any aspiring censors.”
In her 2018 book, Hate: Why We Should Resist it with Free Speech, Not Censorship, New York Law School professor Nadine Strossen summarizes data collected from academics, human rights advocacy groups, and policy experts worldwide from which she concludes, “‘hate speech’ laws are at best ineffective and at worst counterproductive.” Noting the persistence in bigoted behavior and racist politics in countries where anti-hate speech laws are strongest, Strossen states:
“Censoring any material increases an audience’s desire to obtain it and disposes the audience to be more receptive to it. This phenomenon is so prevalent that several widely used terms have been coined to describe it, including the ‘boomerang effect,’ the ‘forbidden fruits effect,’ and the ‘Streisand effect’.” Worse yet, “[e]ven in developed democracies, enforcement of ‘hate speech’ laws is likely to increase, not decrease, intergroup tensions. Experience teaches that the most effective way to reduce or resolve intergroup conflicts is through cooperative, conciliatory approaches, rather than through ‘lawfare.’”
However, if we’re not feeling particularly cooperative or conciliatory, we can still exercise our own Free Speech to debate, inform, or even mock our opposition, without insisting they be silenced. As President Barack Obama once said, “[T]he strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech…”
In 2013, I presided over a counter-protest against the anti-LGBTQ Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), famous for their own offensive protests against fallen soldiers and other high-profile victims of tragedy. We called it a “Pink Mass”, same sex couples ceremonially kissed over the grave of the WBC founder’s mother’s grave, encircled by candles, and the activity culminated in my resting my testicles on the stone. Clearly, I was something less than concerned as to whether the message conveyed was considered “offensive” by Phelps and his bigoted band of superstitious outrage-mongers.
About a year later, Phelps was on his deathbed, and Vice asked me to write a eulogy. In it, I made clear that we were never attempting to silence WBC, but were rather engaging in our own Free Speech to criticize them:
“On the eve of Phelps’s death, I think there is much that the American public can be proud of. We can be proud not only of the strong counter-protests that followed the Westboro Baptist Church wherever they flagrantly and tastelessly displayed their disgusting malice, but also that we live in an environment where Fred Phelps was allowed to publicly spew his vindictive ideas with such infuriating and thoughtless impunity. It is infinitely better to suffer the few Fred Phelpses that will surely always exist than to live in a political environment in which odious speech is regulated by an officiating body.”
One of the more perplexing recurring arguments I see against the maligned “Free Speech absolutists” is the claim that they exhibit a failure to recognize that none of our celebrated liberties are, in fact, absolute, citing the caveats of the Emergency Principle. But in reality, the new Free Speech battleground isn’t one whereon absolutists are trying to repeal the Emergency Principle, rather it’s one whereon a new wave of crusaders, unlearned upon or unpersuaded by the lessons of the past, are trying to repeal the Viewpoint Neutrality Principle, which “bars government from punishing any speech based solely on dislike of its viewpoint, no matter how deeply or widely despised that viewpoint might be.
The arguments which invoke the alleged failure of the “absolutists” to recognize already existing prohibitions against harassment, direct threats, and defamation often go on to suggest that it is but a small and reasonable step to further prohibit implied or indirect “threats,” any speech that makes a minority group feel uncomfortable or marginalized. Again, the reality is that it is a very wide and untenable leap, from barring direct threats that pose a tangible and imminent danger to barring those which by some authority’s subjective analysis “implies” a similar danger. Will Hate Speech restrictions prohibit the imam from espousing teachings that are deemed misogynistic? Or do hate speech restrictions bar such criticisms as “Islamophobia”? Are ex-Muslim apostates a minority within a minority, deserving of increased protection? Or are they perceived to be assimilated into a general pool of non-Muslims, their critiques but “hate speech” against the real minority? Are calls to boycott Israel a legitimate criticism of Israeli policies regarding Palestinian independence, or, as France determined in 2015, in deference to their hate speech restrictions, are t-shirts that state “Long live Palestine, boycott Israel” a provocation of “discrimination, hatred or violence”? Which rhetoric, and on which sides, of the abortion debate would be acceptable? Is Evangelical rhetoric against homosexuality “hate speech,” or are criticisms against their religious prohibition against homosexuality to be considered “hate speech” against a religious voice? Are Catholics to be given legal ammunition to decide that Satanists performing a Black Mass are engaging in “hate speech” against them? Who decides? (Again, I must shake my head at the sheer stupidity of calling for increased prohibitions against speech during the Trump Era.)
So, are The Satanic Temple “Free Speech absolutists”? We accept the Emergency Principle, so the term “absolutist” applies only in the case of those who think a rejection of further restriction is altogether too dogmatic. Further, I see no hypocrisy in the fact that I often ban from our social media pages people who offer nothing but criticisms, arguments, spam, and general stupidity.
We have the right to cultivate our own platforms to reflect our own message. Free Speech does not mean that every publication is obligated to print a diversity of views, or that any venue that hosts a speaker of one political persuasion is obligated to accept a speaker of another. However, we should respect the Constitutional standard wherever we can, and while we can exercise our freedom of speech to withdraw support, level criticism at, and financially boycott institutions that provide platforms to speech that is offensive to us, we have no right to threaten violence, to bring harm, or call for official intervention to prevent those platforms from hosting those speakers.
I see no hypocrisy in the fact that when I use social media platforms that contain Terms of Service prohibitions against Hate Speech and violent, harassing rhetoric, I use the reporting mechanisms offered by those platforms when such are directed against me and/or The Satanic Temple. While I feel that the world would be better served if our social media platforms tried their best to emulate the Constitutional model, we should at least seek to be treated fairly whatever their existing standards may be. However, if the social media mega-giants are any indication of how The Satanic Temple might be “protected” by “hate speech” regulations more broadly applied, we have little hope that we’ll find justice in any attempted Hate Speech regulations.
Finally, The Satanic Temple’s dedication to Free Speech is, and always has been, enshrined in our Fourth Tenet:
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.
Our position regarding offensive speech is shared and appropriately summarized by the ACLU in their position paper on Freedom of Expression:
Free Speech For Hatemongers?
The ACLU has often been at the center of controversy for defending the free speech rights of groups that spew hate, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. But if only popular ideas were protected, we wouldn’t need a First Amendment. History teaches that the first target of government repression is never the last. If we do not come to the defense of the free speech rights of the most unpopular among us, even if their views are antithetical to the very freedom the First Amendment stands for, then no one’s liberty will be secure. In that sense, all First Amendment rights are “indivisible.”
Censoring so-called hate speech also runs counter to the long-term interests of the most frequent victims of hate: racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. We should not give the government the power to decide which opinions are hateful, for history has taught us that government is more apt to use this power to prosecute minorities than to protect them. As one federal judge has put it, tolerating hateful speech is “the best protection we have against any Nazi-type regime in this country.”
At the same time, freedom of speech does not prevent punishing conduct that intimidates, harasses, or threatens another person, even if words are used. Threatening phone calls, for example, are not constitutionally protected.
One might self-righteously pontificate about the necessity of restrictions upon speech so as to benefit the underprivileged, but the reality is that calls for restrictions against Free Speech always necessarily come from a place of privilege — privilege that allows one the ignorant bliss to imagine that such restrictions will only ever serve one’s own cause alone. The Satanic Temple stands for principles that are meant, in the spirit of legal equity, to be appropriate for universal application. To decide that some rights are appropriate for some groups, while the same rights are to be denied others, regardless of one’s alleged certainty of qualitative moral distinctions between the two, is a corruption of power. We will never be the hypocrites who support any type of tyranny in the name of democracy. We will never advance repression in the name of Satanism.
“God, conquered, will become Satan; Satan, conquering, will become God. May the fates spare me this terrible lot […] what matter that men should be no longer submissive to Ialdabaoth if the spirit of Ialdabaoth is still in them; if they, like him, are jealous, violent, quarrelsome, and greedy, and the foes of the arts and of beauty? What matter that they have rejected the ferocious Demiurge, if they do not hearken to the friendly demons who teach all truths; to Dionysus, Apollo, and the Muses? As to ourselves, celestial spirits, sublime demons, we have destroyed Ialdabaoth, our Tyrant, if in ourselves we have destroyed Ignorance and Fear.” — Satan in Revolt of the Angels, Anatole France, 1914
1) Quoted in “Hate: Why We Should Resist it with Free Speech, Not Censorship”, Strossen, Nadine, 2018