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Proposed Satan monument heats up debate in Oklahoma

Religion and BeliefCourts and the JudiciaryCredit and DebtAmerican Civil Liberties Union

A religious group believes it has an idea that could "complement and contrast" the Ten Commandments monument located on Oklahoma state Capitol grounds: a 7-foot-tall statue of Satan, depicted as a Baphomet -- a goat-headed figure with wings and horns -- sitting on a pentagram-adorned throne with smiling children at its side.

On Monday, the New York-based religious group Satanic Temple formally submitted its application for the monument to the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, which oversees the Capitol grounds in Oklahoma City.

Satanic Temple argues that if the Legislature could authorize the Ten Commandments monument, then a statue of Satan should also be permitted. The monument would be both an "homage" to Satan and a symbol of religious freedom, Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves told the Los Angeles Times.

"More than anything, we feel our monument is meant to be a historical marker celebrating the scapegoats, marginalized and demonized minority," he said.

In August, the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state to remove the Ten Commandments monument because "the state needs to get out of the business of endorsing religion," Brady Henderson, legal director of the chapter, told The Times.

The stone monument, which also features a bald eagle and an American flag, lists the commandments under "I am the Lord thy God." It was erected in 2012.

Last month, the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission put a moratorium on deciding any new monument requests, Trait Thompson, commission chairman, told The Times.

"We just didn't feel prudent at this juncture to be considering other monuments ... when the Ten Commandments monument is under review by the state Supreme Court," he said.

Though the ACLU is opposed to all religious monuments on public property, Henderson said, the organization believes the Satanic Temple's monument has "every right to be there" if the Ten Commandments monument remains.

"For us ... it's about respecting the idea that government shouldn't endorse religion in the first place," he said. "But if that's unavoidable, it needs to at least be neutral."

Henderson said the commission, by enacting the moratorium, is just "trying to push back and not make decisions."

Many Oklahomans, including some lawmakers, strongly oppose the idea of a monument to Satan.

"Displays at the Capitol are intended to represent the values of the people of Oklahoma and memorialize those who have worked to build and preserve our freedoms," Joe Griffin, communications director for the Oklahoma speaker of the House, said in an email to The Times. "This proposed monument does not meet those standards and, in this office’s opinion, is not appropriate at the Capitol.”

[Updated, 3:35 p.m. Jan. 8: Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman (R-Sapulpa) told The Times in an email statement that the monument proposal seemed like "nothing more than a political stunt that would not be in keeping with the traditions and values of Oklahomans."]

On Speakup Oklahoma, an online forum for residents to discuss issues, people began a comment thread in December called "Stop the Proposal and Building [of] the Satanic Monument on Statehouse Steps!"

"This is the most diabolical proposal and idea that has been introduced in the great state of Oklahoma," one person commented on the website.

Despite the backlash, Greaves said Satanic Temple had received "hundreds of emails" from people in Oklahoma and around the U.S. praising the proposal.

To raise money to build the monument, Satanic Temple created an Indiegogo fundraising page.  As of Wednesday morning, the group had surpassed its goal of $20,000 by about $2,000.

Cam Porter of Tulsa said that although he is an atheist, he and many of his friends are among those backing the Satan monument.

"It's a good way to bring awareness to the fact that there's not one religion out there," he told The Times. "It's not just about Christianity.... People don't believe all in the same thing and they should be able to express that."

Greaves believes one thing is certain: "If you allow one, you have to allow the other," he said.  "I don't see much of an issue here."

Thompson said the commission was "going to hold everything" until the lawsuit over the Ten Commandments monument was adjudicated.

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Religion and BeliefCourts and the JudiciaryCredit and DebtAmerican Civil Liberties Union
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