When the devil issues a press release, the media pay attention.
Satan has stirred a hell of a commotion in my home state of Oklahoma the last week.
The Associated Press produced the first national report on Satanists seeking a spot on the Oklahoma Capitol steps, followed soon by national outlets such as CNN, Religion News Service and Reuters as well as the Tulsa World. (Update: The Journal Record, an Oklahoma City business newspaper, had the original scoop.)
I’m approaching this critique with a bit of trepidation, not out of any fear of the Evil One but because — given my ties to Oklahoma and the religion beat — I know four of the five reporters who handled the stories referenced above. My plan is to make a few constructive criticisms, ask a few pointed questions and pray that no one sticks me with a pitchfork.
Let’s start with AP’s initial scoop:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — In their zeal to tout their faith in the public square, conservatives in Oklahoma may have unwittingly opened the door to a wide range of religious groups, including satanists who are seeking to put their own statue next to a Ten Commandments monument on the Statehouse steps.
The Republican-controlled Legislature in this state known as the buckle of the Bible Belt authorized the privately funded Ten Commandments monument in 2009, and it was placed on the Capitol grounds last year despite criticism from legal experts who questioned its constitutionality. The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit seeking its removal.
But the New York-based Satanic Temple saw an opportunity. It notified the state’s Capitol Preservation Commission that it wants to donate a monument and plans to submit one of several possible designs this month, said Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the temple.
If I’m the editor, I raise an obvious question about that lede: According to whom? The use of the adjective “unwittingly” particularly seems to cry out for attribution (a named source identifying who provided the information). Otherwise, it comes across as editorialization.
I also wondered about the lowercase “satanist,” particularly since the AP story switched back and forth between lowercase and uppercase versions of the word. In checking my handy dandy AP Stylebook, the journalist’s bible, I found this succinct entry:
Satan — but lowercase devil and satanic
Hmmmm, that doesn’t really answer the Satanists question — or is it satanists?
In reading the AP story, I couldn’t tell if the Satanists/satanists were serious about the monument or engaging in a publicity ploy.
I felt like CNN’s Belief Blog did a much better job of answering that question:
The Temple of Satan is less a religious body organized around rituals and regular meetings than a roving band of political provocateurs, said Greaves. They believe Satan is a “literary construct,” the spokesman said, not an actual being with horns and hooves.
Last year, the Temple 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.
While AP’s second-day story focused on lawmakers seeking to ease public concern over the devilish proposal, RNS reported on Hindus following the Satan lovers’ lead by applying to have a monkey god statue placed on the Capitol grounds. As you would expect, RNS did a nice job explaining the Hindu deity:
Hanuman, the monkey king, is an important deity in Hinduism, the world’s third largest faith. He is most popular among devotees of the avatar Lord Ram and others following a devotional path. There are more temples and roadside shrines to Hanuman than to any other deity in all of North India. For Hindus, Hanuman is one of the finest exemplars of a life of love and service of God.
Several days after the AP story, Reuters produced this lede:
(Reuters) – Oklahoma’s decision to allow a Christian monument on its state Capitol lawn has opened the door to almost any other religious display, legal experts said, as Satanists and Hindus look to place their own statues at the site.
A Satanist group has petitioned to have its monument, with an interactive display for children, put up alongside the Ten Commandments. And this week, the Hindu organization applied to have a monkey god statue placed on the Capitol grounds.
Kudos to Reuters for attributing its statement up high to “legal experts” and quoting some in the story. But here’s my nitpicky question: Is it entirely accurate to call a Ten Commandments display a “Christian monument?” Do any other faith groups — I’m thinking of one in particular — identify with the Ten Commandments? Just asking.
The Tulsa World lede, meanwhile, impressed me as perhaps, just maybe, a little, shall we say, one-sided:
OKLAHOMA CITY – Several lawmakers on Monday were highly critical of a proposal by the New York City-based Satanic Temple to build a monument near the recently erected Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds.
“I think it is a joke,” said Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.
“This is a faith-based nation and a faith-based state,” said Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville. “I think it is very offensive they would contemplate or even have this kind of conversation.”
“It is not something the people of Oklahoma would support, and the people of Oklahoma support the Ten Commandments monument,” said Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa.
“It is not going to get approved here without a court battle,” said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove. “I can assure you.”
Please weigh in with your comments on the stories referenced. However, don’t forget that GetReligion is a journalism website. We want to focus on the media coverage issues, not on the specifics of whether readers favor a satanic monument or not.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pitchforks to avoid.