Settle down class, please hold all your questions until the end of the presentation. An official statement from The Satanic Temple is forthcoming but Lucien Greaves has informed me that I get to spill the beans. (UPDATE: You can read the Temple’s full statement HERE.)
Lucien Greaves Says The Satanic Temple is Now a Tax-Exempt Church
“In light of theocratic assaults upon the Separation of Church and State in the legislative effort to establish a codified place of privilege for one religious viewpoint, we feel that accepting religious tax exemption — rather than renouncing in protest — can help us to better assert our claims to equal access and exemption while laying to rest any suspicion that we don’t meet the qualifications of a true religious organization. Satanism is here to stay.” –Lucien Greaves, co-founder The Satanic Temple
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I Thought We Want Churches to be Taxed?
I said hold your questions! Ok, look here’s the deal. This is a move that The Satanic Temple’s (TST’s) co-founder Lucien Greaves has been floating for a while now. Way back in May of 2017 after President Trump signed his “Religious Liberty” executive order. Greaves discussed how TST would be re-evaluating its position on tax-exemption in a newsletter to TST’s mailing list:
“Another byproduct of this turn of events, of course, is that The Satanic Temple must re-evaluate its prior principled refusal to accept religious tax-exemption. This position now confers a total advantage of “none”, while our theocratic counterparts trample over the Constitution and all it previously stood for. It appears that now is a time in which a more principled stand is to meet our opponent on equal footing, so to as balance, as best we can, what has been a frighteningly asymmetrical battle. As “the religious” are increasingly gaining ground as a privileged class, we must ensure that this privilege is available to all, and that superstition doesn’t gain exclusive rights over non-theistic religions or non-belief. With the religio-political landscape suddenly so grotesquely deformed from what we previously recognized, it seems reasonable that non-believers should adjust their language accordingly, and insist that atheistic and secular non-profits, advancing a distinct religious opinion and/or opinion upon religion, are themselves rightful beneficiaries of religious tax exemption as well.” – Lucien Greaves, May 2017
That was two years ago. Greaves also signaled this move on twitter last July when the then still Republican controlled house passed legislation to prevent the IRS from revoking tax-exempt status from churches as part of an IRS Funding bill.
Time to go tax exempt https://t.co/L8zjSnlZHo
— Lucien Greaves (@LucienGreaves) July 20, 2018
Clearly this move has been a long time coming.
Seeking Inclusion in Theist Dominated Spaces is The Satanic Temple’s Whole Deal
Now, I know many in the atheist community are going to balk at a move like this since ‘tax the churches’ is something of a rallying cry and pointing out how much money churches avoid paying into government coffers has always been a big talking point. But think about it for a minute. This has always been TST’s modus operandi:
- When churches handed out bibles in Florida, TST asked to hand out their coloring books and the school stopped letting churches hand out bibles.
- When Christians dominate the bully pulpit of invocations at government meetings TST asks to be afforded the same privilege, seeks legal action when they are denied, or compels local governments to change their laws.
- When theocratic legislators put Christian lawn ornaments at their state capitols TST asks to have their monuments like the Baphomet and Snaketivity placed right next to them.
The brief but well-documented history of TST (see “Hail Satan?” Now in theaters!) is one of finding spaces where theocrats have carved out exemptions from Church/State separation for their churches and then TST asserts the right be treated as an equal religion with equal protections. Sometimes that motivates law-makers to rethink their strategy. But other times they’ve simply accepted that TST is entitled to be treated like every other church. I am fairly certain it ties the people who have to try and defend religious privileges in knots when TST has the unmitigated gall to assert their right to claim the exemptions they carved out with the intention of only benefiting theocrats.
There’s also an issue of perceived legitimacy at play here. Brace yourself for this atheists because I’m going to rip off a bandaid.
Many Atheists Have Refused to Take Satanism Seriously
To the extent there’s any qualifications for being a ‘recognized religion’ in the United States, tax-exemption is really the only game in town. Separation of church and state demands that the government can’t go around telling people which religions are and are not legitimate. Whether or not a religion is ‘legitimate’ occupies a murky legal definition on whether or not a religious belief is “deeply-held”. For example, Pastafarians don’t actually believe that a lack of pirates caused global warming. There really isn’t more of a definition than that.
Now when it comes to TST people have tried to employ all manner of dismissive arguments to try and claim that it’s not a ‘real religion’. Just yesterday Seth Andrews did an entire Thinking Atheist episode about TST and within an hour of the episode coming out there were fans of the show calling TST “atheist satirists who troll Christians”, “an inside joke”, “stupid”, and “goofball stage play Bulls**t”.
That’s just the Atheists. Theists just tell Satanists we’re going to hell, that they’ll pray for us, and make all the same canned arguments they always make to all atheists. Both atheist and theists also try to say that religions require a belief in the supernatural, which it doesn’t (we’ll discuss that some other time in a future article).
I’ve been having these conversations for a few years now and it’s amazing that the one thing many atheists have in common with fundamentalist Christians is a deep desire to try and deny TST’s legitimacy as a religious organization.
So, now The Satanic Temple is now officially recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt church. It is as legitimate as a religion can get in the United States.
Listen, I get it. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance to take in here. On one hand atheists want to support TST because of the work that they do, and on the other hand you once read Christopher Hitchens one weekend in college and decided that all religion is poison and it should be wiped out at all costs. So you really don’t want TST to be a religion because you really want to like them. It’s like that person you had a crush on who you weren’t really in love with because you were in love with your idea of who you thought they were instead. That’s a tough realization to come to, but here we are.
At any rate, that brings us to what is sure to be another contentious issue with this announcement, the inevitable outcry from the Church of Satan (CoS) in which they’re going to say that it is unSatanic to be tax-exempt because that’s what uncle Anton said.
I Thought Satanists Believed Churches Should Pay Taxes?
Well, for a long time that was the prevailing ideology of most Satanists because it has been the Church of Satan’s position for so long. Their assertion is sort of a ‘lead by example’ kind of narrative which asserts that you believe churches should be taxed, then it would be hypocritical to take advantage of that privilege. Unfortunately, the whole story isn’t nearly that clear cut. In his history of the Church of Satan Michael Aquino noted that CoS was originally was founded as a non-profit organization and by Aquino’s account CoS failed to qualify for federal tax-exempt status, but did enjoy exemption for several early years at the state level in California during the 70’s.
“Although Anton later made a habit of stating that the Church deliberately refused tax-exempt status as a gesture of protest against religious tax-exemption, this was simply an excuse for the Church of Satan’s failure to qualify for exemption. On September 16, 1971 a California tax-exemption was issued for the Church, conditional upon a federal exemption. When this was not granted, the California exemption was revoked in 1973. It was reapplied for in 1975, then revoked again in 1985. AS of 1992 – the last time I checked – neither the California Attorney General nor the Federal Internal Revenue Service listed the Church of Satan as an exempt organization.” (Aquino, p 427)
Aquino’s account is not without its problems. Aquino rather notoriously left the CoS in 1975. CoS, of course, maintains that they choose to forgo tax-exemption as a matter of conscience. Since both accounts are presented by biased interests as to which narrative is considered the truth, and since Anton Lavey is dead so it’s not like anyone can ask him, everyone just kind of has to make up their mind about what they believe on their own. Though it should be said that Aquino rather thoroughly documents his work.
Ultimately though, I don’t think it matters. The Satanic Temple has already made quite clear they have no interest in what the Church of Satan has to say on many topics. Both groups waste a lot of ink reminding people they have nothing to do with each other anyway. That the two sects differ on the issue of tax-exemption is only one of many differences.
The Takeaway is that Donations to The Satanic Temple are Now Tax-Deductible
Today’s announcement means donations to The Satanic Temple will be tax-deductible just like they are for American Atheists, Atheist Community of Austin, The Salvation Army, Lakewood Church, or Holy Ghost Ministries. So if your accountant tells you to find a charity to throw some money at, or you just want to contribute, you can now get a tidy little write-off for your trouble.
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