(Gazette) A Satanic idol and altar has been placed in the Iowa Capitol building for the Christmas season, with some Republican lawmakers even defending it.
Satanic Goat Skull Idol on Display at Iowa State Capitol at Christmastime, GOP Lawmakers Defend
Satanic Temple display at Iowa State Capitol sparks free speech debate.
Gov. Kim Reynolds called the display ‘objectionable’, encouraged ‘more speech’ and prayer
A display installed by the Satanic Temple Iowa is seen at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday. A man seated in front of the display prays in Latin
DES MOINES — Iowans touring the state Capitol this week will see two displays — one installed by the Satanic Temple and the other a Nativity scene — that have sparked a debate about free expression and religious liberty.
The Satanic Temple Iowa — a chapter of a national organization — installed a display last week that features a statue of Baphomet, a goat-headed figure often used to represent Satan. The display also features seven tenets upheld by the Satanic Temple. It is set to remain up until Saturday, according to a calendar maintained by the Department of Administrative Services.
The Thomas More Society, a conservative law firm, installed a Nativity scene in the state Capitol on Tuesday that will remain for two weeks.
Images of the Satanic Temple display circulated on social media last week and sparked calls for the state to remove it, including from at least one Republican state lawmaker. Others argued the display is religious expression protected by the First Amendment.
In a statement on Tuesday, Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said she disagrees with the display, but implored opponents to engage in speech and prayer, rather than remove the display.
“Like many Iowans, I find the Satanic Temple’s display in the Capitol absolutely objectionable,” Reynolds said in a statement. “In a free society, the best response to objectionable speech is more speech, and I encourage all those of faith to join me today in praying over the Capitol and recognizing the Nativity scene that will be on display — the true reason for the season.”
In a statement issued Monday, the Satanic Temple Iowa said it was proud to take part in the holiday season at the state Capitol.
The tenets portrayed on the statue, the group said, advocate “for bodily autonomy, a rejection of arbitrary authority, recognizing our own fallibility, and inspiring nobility in thought and action which we hope enlightens the viewer to our beliefs and inspires one to reflect upon their own approach to the world.”
“We thank the staff of the Capitol, the Capitol Police and the Department of Administrative Services for holding fast to the principle of religious freedom and ensuring all religions have an equal opportunity to celebrate the holidays together in our beautiful Capitol,” the group said in the statement.
The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, a liberal advocacy organization, said in a statement on Tuesday that Reynolds’ comments about the display are disrespectful to people who are not Christian.
“The Governor of Iowa may be Christian herself but, in this democracy grounded in religious freedom, she is not a Christian Governor,” said Connie Ryan, the group’s executive director. “She should never elevate one belief above all other beliefs. She is accountable to every Iowan. She should promise to do better and to inclusively represent and uphold the freedoms of every Iowan, regardless of the political influences to do otherwise.”
Republicans differ on response
In a newsletter on Dec. 8, State Rep. Brad Sherman, a Republican from Williamsburg, said he disagrees that the Satanic display is protected free speech and called for Reynolds to remove it. He pointed to the Iowa Constitution, which states that the people of Iowa are “grateful to the Supreme Being for the blessings hitherto enjoyed.”
He said that clause implies that the state law is founded on a Christian interpretation of God, and Iowa must depend on God for continued success.
“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,” he wrote.
Sherman further called for legislation to state that satanic displays are not allowed on state property, and legislation allowing the display of the Ten Commandments in the Capitol and school buildings.
State Rep. Jon Dunwell, a Republican from Newton, said he does not support the Satanic Temple display, but that it should remain up in order to ensure that religious freedom is protected. The divide represents a rift in the Republican Party between Christian nationalists, he said, and those who think the government should not privilege any religion.
“As an American and as a politician, my number one concern is freedom,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I do not want the government telling me what’s an appropriate religious display and what is not an appropriate religious display. Because if they can do that against something that I find objectionable, at some point that same government can do that to me.”
Christians commemorate Nativity display
In an event commemorating the Nativity scene on Tuesday, speakers made frequent reference to the Satanic Temple display nearby, though none called for the display to be removed. Reynolds attended the ceremony, but she did not speak.
Ahead of the ceremony on Tuesday, Barb Chapman of Urbandale was praying in front of the Satanic Temple display. She said she is not opposed to the display being up, but that she was praying for the people involved to change their views and become Christians.
“I don’t hate them for it, I’m just sorry that they don’t know the love of God, or I don’t think they would oppose him,” she said.
Mike Demastus, the pastor of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, said he thinks the display was installed to “poke the bear” and offend Christians, and that the display is not in line with Iowa’s cultural tradition.
While he does not want the display to be up, he said he does not know whether it can be legally taken down.
“My gut feeling was, I wanted to come and tear it down, personally,” he said. “But I also need to be a law-abiding citizen.”