Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Discrimination, Religious Liberty and Satan Worshippers in Oklahoma

by Nomad

Devil worshipWhen a Satan-worshipping Church wanted to hold a Black Mass in the Oklahoma City Civic Center, a few Christian religious groups began having second thoughts about everybody's right to religious liberty.

According to an article in the Oklahoma Gazette, unlimited religious freedom has some Christian leaders in the Sooner state holding their noses.

The controversy began when Oklahoma City Civic Center decided to rent its smallest meeting space to a group of Satanists to perform a Black Mass in September. That decision had some people, including the Catholic Archbishop Paul Coakley, steaming. They urged the city, which manages the Civic Center, to turn away the devil-worshippers. 

According to the article:
“We’re astonished and grieved that the Civic Center would promote as entertainment and sell tickets for an event that is very transparently a blasphemous mockery of the Mass,” Coakley said in a statement this week.
This would be the fourth such event staged by the Church of the IV Majesties. In 2010, its "public satanic exorcism" causes a similar outcry from local religious leaders. The Satanic Church is, it might surprise you to learn, a  legally recognized religion, based in San Francisco. According to its website
There are now Agents of the Church of Satan in most major North American and European cities and there are countless numbers of people throughout the world who practice our teachings without formally affiliating with the fountainhead of contemporary Satanism.
(Whether that includes the Church of IV Majesties is not clear.)

In fact, the hoopla was all a bit of a tempest in a teapot. A staggering forty-five people attended the 2010 service, 8 the following year and a total of nobody the next year. So far, the Black Mass- despite the unintentional advertising by the Catholic Church- has sold only five tickets.

Civic Center general manager Jim Brown explained to reporters that, despite the loud objections,  the Civic Center had a legal obligation to welcome any group, no matter its religious stance.
“We don’t get involved in programing,” Brown said. “Because we are a city-run facility, our legal department has said they are protected by the First Amendment.” 
That's a very wise decision by the legal eagles. 

If the Archbishop's comments were meant to discourage the members of the Satanic Church, it was a miscalculation, The organizers were pleased with the comments.
“It’s definitely a positive for us,” said Adam Daniels, the high priest of the santic group putting on the Black Mass. “We continue to have an issue with Christians trying to shut us down, and this highlights that.”
Christian groups were undeterred by the lack of response from the Oklahoma City Civic Center. In a search for a means to put a stop to the Black Mass, some in Oklahoma looked East, specifically to Boston.

Boston successfully halted a similar Black Mass earlier this year following protests by Catholics there. They maintained that the leader of the Satanic church was a registered sex offender and that the approval of the event on the Harvard University campus constituted a "hostile work environment." 

Although it seems like a stretch, the "hostile work environment" tactic is an interesting one, especially in light of the recent Supreme Court decisions. 

Strictly speaking, a hostile work environment is created by a boss or coworker whose "actions, communication, or behavior make doing your job impossible. This means that the behavior altered the terms, conditions, and/or reasonable expectations of a comfortable work environment for employees. Additionally, the behavior, actions or communication must be discriminatory in nature."

Unfortunately the article doesn't explain the logical relationship between the exercise of religious freedom of a sex offender and the claim of a hostile work environment. To whom? Civic Center workers? Could non-Christian workers make the same claim against Christian organizations that "demean" women or gay and lesbians?
As in the Boston example, the high priest in the Oklahoma Satanic Church is also a registered sex offender.

Despite the logical disconnect, according to blogger Dawn Eden, Oklahoma City Civic Center is creating a hostile work environment "by giving a platform to a sex offender.”
“There may be other ways to alert the federal government to your concern about the issue,” Eden added. “It is never a good thing when a government-funded civic center hosts a public performance led by a registered sex offender—especially when the performance itself demeans women.”
(If Ms. Eden is concerned about government funded events that demean women, she might want to start at the Oklahoma state capital and consider some of the legislation that has been drafted there. ) 

Unsurprisingly the "hostile work environment" allegation is a foggy one and legally a hard one to prove. There are a lot more legal hurdles to proving a "hostile work environment" than most people realize.

One notable problem is that, in order to file a complaint, the complainant must have reason to believe that such behavior patterns are likely to continue indefinitely. That's hard to prove when the Black Mass is a one-off event.
The article noted that
Oklahoma City Hall said it had not received any complaints specific to the hostile work environment claim as of yet.
That may be a sign of exactly how futile that particular argument is.

In any event, the shaky strategy of attempting to limit the religious freedom rights of sex offenders may be walking on dangerous ground.
The Catholic Church itself has been embroiled for decades now in its own sex abuse scandals.Some 11,000 allegations had been made against 4,392 priests and over 3,000 "civil lawsuits have been filed against the church" in the United States. Those figures do not include the rest of the world. 

Only last week, the Pope asked for forgiveness for the Church's role in the countless cases abuse of children world-wide. 
That's as good as a confession.
Using the same logic, therefore, atheists, Protestants and other religious groups could conceivably use the same justification to prevent the Catholic Church from using all government-owned venues.

Enough with the charade.
Clearly this is not about sex offenders or demeaned women or hostile work environments. (That's an insult  to all women who have faced actual harassment at work.)  
What's really going is much more obvious. It is a transparent attempt to suppress in some quasi-legal fashion the religious freedoms of a minority religion that some in the community do not approve of. Today it is the Church of Satan. But tomorrow, it could be a the Church of Islam, or a Buddhist temple. 

Trying to limit the religious freedoms of others is going to be especially hard when the governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, recently said of the Supreme Court infamous Hobby Lobby decision:
“Religious liberty is one of the principles this nation was founded upon. It is a freedom woven into the fabric of this country and expressly outlined in our Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court acted today to protect religious liberty and defend our citizens from an overreaching, overbearing federal government.
That religious liberty that Fallin gleefully celebrates is- whether she accepts it or not- not reserved for only Christians or any one religion. Much to the chagrin of some Jesus-loving Oklahomans, this liberty, also applies to Satan worshippers.