Deck the Skulls of Half-Goat Demons Fa La La La La

Well, it’s the winter holiday season and you know what that means: twinkly lights, wrapped presents, babies in mangers, and the beheaded corpse of Baphomet, the esoteric half-man half-woman half-goat deity worshiped by the medieval order of the Knights Templar. And yes I know that’s three halves. It’s complicated. By the way, is it just me or have we lost the true meaning of the season? Like, kids are beheading Baphomet without even understanding that she/he represents the balance in all things and that his/her destruction is a metaphor for the collapse of the social order. They’re just doing it because it’s fun. Sad, really.

Last week, 35-year old Michael Cassidy drove from his home in Mississippi to the Iowa State Capitol specifically because he heard there was a Baphomet statue on display there. Why was there a Baphomet statue in the Iowa State Capitol? Simple: to teach conservative Christians about the importance of separation of Church and State. By which I mean, “because the Satanic Temple petitioned to have it displayed there alongside other religious groups’ holiday features.”

You see, here in the United States we ostensibly have “freedom of religion.” The last time I mentioned this in a video I noticed a LOT of commenters arguing that separation of Church and State is NOT central to the United States’s governing documents, which I found strange but since then I’ve been seeing this as a common talking point on social media. Let me be clear: this is a very stupid meme and I’m not sure why so many of you have taken it seriously. Just because you heard someone on Fox News say that the words “Separation of Church and State” don’t appear in the Declaration of Independence, or whatever, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a foundational concept for our country. Our dear old Founding Fathers talked about it all the time–you’d be hard pressed to get Thomas Jefferson to talk about anything else! Every dinner party it was either “religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God” or “damn I love having sex with my slave.” That guy!

And of course, that’s why we have the First Amendment, confirming that our government can “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In the centuries since, legislature and court opinion have narrowed down exactly what is and is not allowed when it comes to the display of religion in public spaces. I’m no constitutional lawyer but it’s my understanding that currently, private groups may erect religious displays on government property as long as the government remains neutral and does not discriminate against other religions. That’s why at Christmastime, your State capital might feature baby Jesus in a manger, but also a menorah. And in Iowa, also the mirrored skull of a goat deity perched atop a mannequin holding a pentagram wreath and accompanied by the traditional Guy Who Runs the Shoe Rental at the Bowling Alley praying in Latin at its base.

The Satanic Temple was established in 2013, kind of in protest to George W. Bush administration’s formation of an office that prioritized giving funds to faith-based initiatives. The Temple doesn’t designate a belief in any supernatural entities, including Satan, but instead holds seven secular tenets that focus on science, compassion, and justice. Over the years, they’ve campaigned for separation of Church and State in several ways, like by protesting Christian missionaries and prayer in public schools and, of course, by placing their own displays next to Christian Nativity scenes at Christmastime. Many chapters around the US have come up with fun and weird displays over the years, but this year’s Baphomet in the Iowa capitol got a surprising amount of (negative) publicity from conservatives clutching their pearls at an “anti-Christian” display. I leave it to the viewer to ponder what IS Christian if it is ANTI-Christian to encourage people “to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures.”

Anyway, that’s why Michael Cassidy, a failed Mississippi Congressional candidate, drove to Iowa and destroyed the statue, knocking the head off and throwing it in the trash. Amusingly, if you check out Cassidy’s old website you’ll see that one of his campaign’s promises was to support an automatic 10 years in jail the “destruction of statues, infrastructure, and houses of worship – plus the cost of repair.”

Instead of that, Cassidy faces vandalism charges that have a maximum one year in prison and a $2,560 fine, which is not nothing! But let’s be clear: everyone in this case got exactly what they wanted.

Cassidy got publicity, including the opportunity to go on Fox News to brag about his actions (where Jesse Waters illustrated how good of a Christian HE is by not knowing the difference between Satan and Baphomet). Plus he got his own fund, which, according to Newsweek, “raised $20,000 before being suspended upon hitting its target. Prominent donors included conservative campaign group Turning Point USA and The Daily Wire writer and documentary maker Matt Walsh, who gave $10,000 and $1,000 respectively.” Cha-ching!

Meanwhile, the Satanic Temple got a ton of publicity, probably their own influx of donations, and they got their point proven very clearly: the Religious Right does not want freedom of religion. They want a theocracy in which their religion, conservative evangelical Christianity, is not just privileged but enshrined as the State Religion and used as the foundation for all laws. All their talk of protecting “religious freedom” is really just a cover for that plan.

But…we know that. We’ve known that for years. Some of us have known for decades but in the past few years, particularly, the Religious Right has all but abandoned the charade and are openly campaigning for a Christian theocracy. If the Baphomet statue was really going to expose conservative Christian hypocrisy, then it would have resulted in conservative Christian leaders standing up and saying “hold on, if we don’t want people destroying Nativity scenes than we cannot support people destroying other religious displays, even those we don’t believe in or oppose.” You’d hear them saying “maybe NO religious organizations should have displays on government property. Maybe those belong in our churches and our synagogues and our spooky decommissioned Victorian mortuaries.”

But you don’t hear that because the mask is off. 

I think that as churches go, the Satanic Temple is a pretty good one – I mean for real, they run an online service providing medical abortion pills called Samuel Alito’s Mom’s Satanic Abortion Clinic™

But honestly I just keep coming back to the fact that it’s still a church, and maybe the world doesn’t need more of those. Churches are top down institutions where one person, or a handful, pretty much always men, have a bunch of power over how people should think and behave, and shouldn’t we be beyond that type of system by now? I mean, even the Satanic Temple has their own very typical church controversies and schisms, with new sects breaking off when, for instance, the head of the Temple hired far-right lawyer Marc Randazza to sue Twitter for suspending him.

And members of some Satanic Temple chapters have accused them of various unsavory activities as reported in this 2021 Newsweek article, which also details the defamation lawsuit brought by the Satanic Temple against former members of their Washington State chapter. That lawsuit was dismissed in 2022, just a few months after the Satanic Temple also sued Newsweek for defamation. THAT case was also mostly dismissed in 2023, though one specific claim of libel is still being considered as of this recording. The drama! The infighting! The frankly concerning number of lawsuits that make me rather worried about even discussing them! The Satanic Temple truly is a Church, I guess. They’ve made it.

Anyway, I do hope that the beheading of Baphomet inspires some Christian conservative somewhere to wake up and smell the hypocrisy. But I’m afraid that the response to it means that all its going to do is show the theocrats that there are no consequences for religious intolerance against anyone but Christians, and that is probably not going to end up going well for the Muslims, Jews, atheists, and others who make up 40% of this country.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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