“This acknowledgment will help make sure the Satanic Temple has the same access to public spaces as other religious organizations, affirm our standing in court when battling religious discrimination, and enable us to apply for faith-based government grants,” read a statement posted to the organization’s Instagram account.
Until recently, the Satanic Temple, based in Salem, Massachusetts, was opposed to seeking tax-exempt status. But that changed, says co-founder and president Lucien Greaves, with President Trump’s 2017 executive order on religious freedom. After that signing, Greaves wrote, “As ‘the religious’ are increasingly gaining ground as a privileged class, we must ensure that this privilege is available to all, and that superstition doesn’t gain exclusive rights over non-theistic religions or non-belief.”
Accepting tax-exempt status, Greaves says, will help the group “better assert our claims to equal access and exemption while laying to rest any suspicion that we don’t meet the qualifications of a true religious organization.” He adds that “Satanism is here to stay.”
What Does the Satanic Temple Believe?
Contrary to popular perception, the Satanic Temple claims it doesn’t worship Satan. Greaves describes the organization as “a nontheistic religion” that doesn’t “advocate for any supernatural beliefs.” In fact, he says the concept of worship is “kind of insulting to people who identify with Satanism because that implies a sense of servility.” By contrast, Greaves explains, “Satanism is about personal sovereignty and independence and freedom of will.”
Defining a religion is tricky, notes religion professor Benjamin Zeller. “The way we tend to use the word is really based on a very sort of Protestant Christian understanding,” he says. “We tend to think about institutions that have leaders, texts, buildings, adherents, beliefs, rituals. The Satanic Temple actually checks those boxes, at least most of them. We may not like it. We may not think of it as a conventional religion, but it seems to fit the characteristics.”
The Satanic Temple has been receiving media attention for placing devil-themed statues in public places. Some members get a kick out of trolling the religious right, admits Greaves, who says, “That can be part of the fun.”
What’s Behind the Group’s Growth?
The Satanic Temple has about 20 U.S. chapters, plus affiliated groups in other countries. Greaves credits this “explosive growth” to “the rise of the theocratic right” in America. “Our expansive membership numbers are a response to the Trump administration and [Mike] Pence being vice president,” he says. “People are horrified.”
Continued growth isn’t necessarily the goal, though, Greaves says. “We’re already big enough and our message has resonated with people strongly enough that we’ve developed schisms, and people disagree with some of our tactics with how we approach injustice and other types of activism.”
The new documentary Hail Satan? chronicles the movement’s growth, protests and legal moves. Filmmaker Penny Lane says the project shows that “religion is a human impulse that has to be satisfied one way or another.” She says, “We still need to come together in communities organized around values and mythology. I think the Satanic Temple is just showing me a new way.”