The Freedom to Offend: Satanism in the Iowa State Capitol

By Milo Jones | Posted January 09, 2024

“The Devil’s Work Is Never Done” is a slogan belonging to the Satanic Temple (TST). What work, specifically, is the devil doing through TST? Two of its top campaigns are “After School Satan” and “Religious Reproductive Rights.” The first provides “a safe and inclusive alternative to the religious clubs that use threats of eternal damnation to convert school children to their belief system”; the second offers guidance on performing an abortion ritual whose “purpose is to cast off notions of guilt, shame, and mental discomfort that a patient may be experiencing.”

During the 2023 Christmas season, many Iowans were outraged to find a TST shrine in their capitol’s rotunda. On display was a Baphomet mannequin, its ram’s head made of mirror-like material and its body covered with a black robe and a scarlet cape. The deity was holding a pentangle decorated with red and black ribbon. In the foreground was the temple’s seal, surrounded by flickering battery candles and by printings of the organization’s seven fundamental tenets.

One of those tenets states, “The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend.” Should Christians agree with such a notion? One who obviously didn’t was 35-year-old Michael Cassidy, a Navy Reserve instructor pilot from Mississippi. In what he later described as “righteous indignation,” he vandalized the Baphomet beyond repair and then turned himself in to capitol police.

Freedom for Me but Not for Thee

Mr. Cassidy, who was charged with 4th-degree criminal mischief, defended his actions in an interview with CBN. When asked about the free-speech debate he had ignited, he said, “I think that it’s the wrong debate to have. … It really boils down to, God is good, and deserves praise, and Satan is evil, and does not deserve praise.” He added that he did “the right thing”—because “we should not tolerate Satan.”

No Christian will disagree that God is good and Satan is evil. However, opinions differ on how we should fight the forces of darkness. After the Satanic Temple set up its shrine, Republican legislators in Iowa expressed their differences.

Rep. Brad Sherman pointed to the preamble of the Iowa Constitution, which acknowledges “the Supreme Being” as the source of “continued blessings” for Iowans. In a “Sherman Liberty Letter,” he wrote that “it is a tortured and twisted interpretation of law that affords Satan, who is universally understood to be the enemy of God, religious expression equal to God in an institution of government that depends upon God for continued blessings.” Thus, Sherman called for the “blasphemous display” to be removed and for legislation to be adopted “that prohibits satanic displays … on all state-owned property.”

Rep. Jon Dunwell, however, expressed a different view. “The current operating principle has been to either allow all displays or none,” he wrote on X. “The Satanic Temple petitioned for their display in August and were approved with some modification. They wanted to use an actual goat head (I’m assuming a skull) and were prohibited from doing so.” Dunwell added that all displays must clearly communicate their non-affiliation with the State of Iowa. Although finding TST’s display “objectionable” to his Christian faith, he didn’t “want the state evaluating and making determinations about religions” in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Days after Reps. Sherman, Dunwell, and others argued how satanic displays should be dealt with on a legislative level, Mr. Cassidy’s “righteous” vandalism fueled questions about how individual Christians should confront public evil. Does the First Amendment protect only Christians? Or do satanists also have constitutional rights?

Consider the case of Brielle Penkoski, a Christian whose public high school forbade her to wear a shirt stating, “Homosexuality is a sin.” Recently, she won a lawsuit against her school district: If her classmates could wear pride clothing, then why couldn’t she also express her views? The lesson in Brielle’s story is that “freedom for me but not for thee”—for Christians but not for pagans—can easily be reversed. Imagine if a satanist had vandalized the nativity scene in the Iowa State Capitol!

The Weapons of Our Warfare

There’s no question that our nation is in a battle with satanic forces. How we fight that battle, however, will determine whose side we are really on. “Though we walk in the flesh,” says the apostle Paul, “we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3, 4). Spiritual warfare is not fought with carnal weapons—with manipulation and force.

Jesus explained it this way: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight” (John 18:36). Perhaps Rep. Dunwell was thinking of this text when he wrote, “I don’t want to mix the kingdoms! Government is a poor arbitrator of religion.” Imposing our faith on others will never convert their hearts, for the heart—not the state—is where God’s kingdom is established (Luke 17:21).

“Like many Iowans,” Gov. Kim Reynolds found “the Satanic Temple’s display in the Capitol absolutely objectionable.” However, she knows that “in a free society, the best response to objectionable speech is more speech.” Yes, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) is one spiritual weapon we can use to confront public evil. But our “primary response,” according to Rep. Dunwell, should be prayer. That’s the weapon that will pull down satanic strongholds. 

What’s interesting is that the Satanic Temple claims to be atheist. Its followers see Satan not as a real being but as a symbol of freedom from all forms of religious oppression. Humans should be free to fulfill their desires without the scruples created by sectarian dogma. Thus, the essence of satanism is the worship of self. In contrast, Christianity teaches the denial of self (Luke 9:23), which brings true freedom (Romans 6:6, 7).

Do you want to experience true freedom? The Surrender of Self is an online booklet that can help.

Listen to The Freedom to Offend: Satanism in the Iowa State Capitol below
Milo Jones
Milo Jones is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and lives in College Place, WA.

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