(ABC4) – Religion has always been a major topic of discussion in Utah.
The Salt Lake Valley, after all, was settled in 1896 by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were fleeing persecution on the other side of the country.
One religion, though tiny in numbers here in the Beehive State, has made national headlines this week as a major voice against a controversial anti-abortion bill passed in Texas. The Satanic Temple (TST), headquartered in Salem, Massachusetts, is intending to flex its own freedom of religion rights by challenging the bill and requesting its members have access to abortion pills.
Members of the faith in Utah are gearing up to defend the church’s stance on abortion, and on challenging the bill with a rally to be held on Sept. 25 at the State Capitol building.
While the temple’s imagery may be shocking to many, especially those from a traditional or Christian background who are taught that Satan is the root of all evil and the adversary to righteousness, Satanists in Utah tell ABC4.com they’re not evil.
“In my personal experience people that have identified as Satanists are the nicest people that I’ve ever met and the most giving people that I’ve ever met in my entire life,” The Satanic Temple’s Utah congregation leader Cody Jones explains. “Like any positive word you can possibly think of, I can use it to describe Satanists that I’ve met.”
As it stands now, The Satanic Temple has just a couple dozen official members in Utah, but Jones adds that the population of “Allies,” or friends of the church who are less involved than a full-time member, is in the hundreds.
Satanists in Utah do not have a permanent meetinghouse and rent a space for events and activities, but still do many of the other exercises that other religious groups in the state participate in. They clean up a section of the road – ironically, a portion of West Temple – as members of the Adopt A Highway program, collect supplies and donations for family and domestic violence shelters, and host a program to gather feminine hygiene products for those in need.
According to Jones and Chalice Blythe, who founded the first congregation in Utah in 2016 and now serves as a spokesperson for the international headquarters, The Satanic Temple makes an emphasis on serving the community.
The religion, which does not espouse any gods or deities, is building its argument against an abortion ban on one of its major tenets; body autonomy. The Satanic Temple holds seven fundamentals tenets which are:
- One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
- The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
- One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
- 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.
- Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
- People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
- Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
While to some, the Temple may appear to be a group of trolls, or political activists pushing an agenda against more traditional faiths, legally speaking, it is a government-recognized religion and members like Jones and Blythe say they are earnest in their beliefs. In 2019, the group achieved tax-exempt status from the IRS and was classified as a “church or a convention or association of churches.”
Many pundits feel The Satanic Temple may have a valid argument in seeking abortion rights for its members by calling it a ritual based on its principles of body autonomy and pursuit of scientific understandings.
In short, the Temple leadership feels that if other religious beliefs can be used to impose laws and rights, their beliefs should be equally valued and considered. The recent conversation around abortion has thrust the debate around freedom of religion into the spotlight, with The Satanic Temple’s beliefs and legal status emerging as a particularly intriguing argument.
“What we’re really doing is trying to assert ourselves in the rights that are afforded to us,”’ Blythe states.
Living in Utah as a Satanist can be a challenge, according to both Jones and Blythe. Jones says he first grew up in an LDS background, and while Blythe says she was never baptized in the faith, she had to live an essentially “Mormon” life growing. And while Satanists don’t believe in a literal Satan, holding the Prince of Darkness as a symbol for freedom of choice and resistance to arbitrary authority, coming out to family and friends as a believer in the Temple’s tenet has had some heartache associated with it.
“To come out as a Satanist is to potentially lose friends and family and whole communities,” Blythe admits. “That’s something that you have to face, and it’s something that we have seen as we accept that unfortunate thing.”
Fortunately, the Satanists say, they have found a sense of community, understanding, and empathy by being together and holding to their beliefs. The group is so committed to their principles of personal choice and respecting the freedoms of others, they frequently invite members of different faiths to their meetings, to educate the Satanists on their beliefs.
And while they are small in numbers – officially speaking – the Satanists in Utah consider themselves to be an extremely tight-knit group, Blythe says.
“If you’re a member of TST, you have a community that knows you and you have people to be around that kind of becomes your second family.”