Arizona Republican wants to ban satanic displays
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Calling Satan "an explicit enemy of God,'' a state senator is pushing to keep displays of him -- by whatever name -- off of public property.
But just Satan. Santa would remain OK. So would Christmas trees and menorah.
"It is a desecration of our public property in the United States of America and in the state of Arizona for a satanic display, memorial, altar, etc., to be on public property,'' said Jake Hoffman. And the Queen Creek Republican pushed the measure through the Senate Government Committee on Wednesday on a 5-1 party-line vote.
All that drew questions, and not just from members of the Temple of Satan who came to testify.
"It is because it's insulting to your religion?'' asked Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe.
Hoffman said that's not his motive.
But the legal issue goes beyond that.
It starts with the fact that the Satanic Temple has been recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a religion and entitled to the same charitable status as any other.
"I am genuinely impressed that in only 25 words this bill seems to violate three separate clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,'' testified Micah Mangione: prohibiting the government from establishing a religion, barring government interference with the free exercise of religion, and guaranteeing the right to free speech. And he warned the Republicans there are implications for their support of SB 1279.
"If you can go after the Satanic Temple, which is a religion, what about paganism next?'' Mangione asked.
"What about Judaism next?'' he continued. "How about Islam? How about LDS?''
What the legislation does, said Mangione said, is declare that only Christian values matter.
Hoffman said he doesn't see it that way.
"It is legally and constitutionally suspect to argue that Satan, someone who is universally known to be an explicit enemy of God, is somehow a religion,'' he said. "That is an absolutely ludicrous statement to make.''
Tonia Francis, however, told Hoffman what he is proposing interferes with her First Amendment rights.
Hoffman disagreed, saying she remains free to practice whatever she wants -- just as long as nothing is erected on public property. But he said any arguments beyond that are off base.
"So you think that it's both legally and constitutionally OK to argue that Satan ... who is universally known to be explicitly the enemy of God, antithetical to God, you think that's targeting your religion?'' Hoffman asked.
"Universally known to you?'' Francis asked.
"To, literally, everyone,'' Hoffman responded. "That's not a point that's debatable. Would you not say that Satan is the enemy of God?
"No,'' said Francis.
Hoffman called her testimony "disingenuous.''
Mendez called the legislation "a straight-up attack on the rights of people and religion.''
"Any religion that could be viewed by the sponsor or this committee, if they view it to be a desecration to Christianity, they're no longer safe in Arizona,'' he said. "This proposal is literally trying to erase any religious group that does not agree with your view of Christianity.''
That drew an angry reaction from Hoffman.
"Nobody said it was a desecration of Christianity,'' he said. "It's a desecration of public property.''
Mendez refused to back down, repeating his argument that this was about Hoffman trying to erase those beliefs that do not align with his.
"I don't understand how we all don't see this as an attack on the Constitution,'' he said.
And it's not just at the federal level. Mendez noted the Arizona Constitution has its own provision saying that "perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured to every inhabitant of this state.''
"This proposal is up here, literally trying to molest people in their religion,'' Mendez said.
Sen. Janae Shamp, R-Surprise, said what's in the legislation is no different than things already happening.
"We've had plenty of situations where the Commandments have been removed from courthouses across the country,'' she said.
"There's been plenty of attacks on Christians, on Muslims,'' Shamp said. "This is simply to say there will not be a display in a government building.''
What Shamp did not say is that the legislation also would cover outdoor displays -- and that there is a Ten Commandments display in state-owned Wesley Bolin Plaza, across from the Capitol. There also are Christmas displays set up at the Capitol as well as a menorah.
Hoffman said such a restriction on public property is justified and does not infringe on individual rights.
"I find it ironic that in Iowa you can knock over and knock over a satanic display and you go to jail for that,'' he said, referring to the arrest of a man who attacked and beheaded a permitted statue put up by the Satanic Temple at Iowa's Capitol in December.
"But, yet, at the U.S. Capitol, you could have a gay sex orgy in a government building and there is zero consequence,'' Hoffman said.
That refers to a congressional staffer who allegedly tape himself having sex in a Senate hearing room. While he was fired for violating policy, there was no evidence any law was broken.
Hoffman called that disparity "abhorrent and disgusting.''
The measure now needs Senate approval.
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