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Satanic Temple challenges Missouri's abortion law on religious grounds

A group called The Satanic Temple is going to bat for a woman identified as "Mary Doe," who contends that the state’s informed consent law violated her religious beliefs.
Image: Lucien Greaves
Lucien Greaves stands next to a 9-foot statue of the goat-headed idol Baphomet at the international headquarters of the Satanic Temple in Salem, Massachusetts on Oct. 24, 2016.Elise Amendola / AP file

There will be a showdown with Satan on Tuesday in the Missouri Supreme Court.

Not with Lucifer himself, but with a group called the Satanic Temple that is going to bat for a woman identified as "Mary Doe." She contends the state’s informed consent law, which required her to wait 72 hours before having an abortion in May 2015, violated her religious beliefs.

Specifically, the woman — identified in the case summary as a "Greene County resident" — says she was forced to view an ultrasound of her fetus and pledge that she read a booklet stating that the “life of every human being begins at conception.”

Image: Lucien Greaves
Lucien Greaves stands next to a 9-foot statue of the goat-headed idol Baphomet at the international headquarters of the Satanic Temple in Salem, Massachusetts on Oct. 24, 2016.Elise Amendola / AP file

This despite the fact that Doe advised the doctors at the St. Louis clinic that "she adheres to principles of the Satanic temple and has sincerely held religious beliefs different from the information in the informed consent booklet," the case summary states.

"Specifically, her letter advised she has deeply held religious beliefs that a nonviable fetus is not a separate human being but is part of her body and that abortion of a nonviable fetus does not terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being."

Jex Blackmore, a spokeswoman for the Satanic Temple, said the woman's religious rights were ignored.

“The State has essentially established a religious indoctrination program intended to push a single ideological viewpoint,” Blackmore said in a statement. “The law is intended to punish women who disagree with this opinion.”

The state will be represented by lawyers from the office of Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is one of the defendants named in Doe’s lawsuit along with Gov. Eric Greitens, who is currently embroiled in a steamy sex scandal.

While Hawley’s office did not release any new statement in advance of Tuesday’s hearing, it is expected to argue, as it did last year, that Doe “failed to allege any conflict between her putative Satanic beliefs and the operation of the Informed Consent Law.”

The Satanic Temple filed state and federal lawsuits on behalf of Doe in May 2015.

“Missouri’s state-mandated informed consent booklets explicitly say that life begins at conception, which is a nonmedical religious viewpoint that many people disagree with,” Blackmore said in a statement Monday. “Forcing women to read this information and then wait 72-hours to consider the State’s opinion is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause.”

The state disagrees.

“Even if Doe has alleged a restriction on free exercise (of religion), the Informed Consent Law clearly serves compelling state interests and is not unduly restrictive on Doe’s asserted exercise of religion,” the state argued in court papers on Sept. 21.

That argument, however, failed to persuade a Missouri appeals court, which agreed in October to kick the case up to the state’s top court — a case the panel called the first of its kind.

"Neither the Missouri Supreme Court nor the U.S. Supreme Court has considered whether a Booklet of this nature, an Ultrasound, an Audible Heartbeat Offer, and a seventy-two-hour Waiting Period violate the Religion Clause rights of pregnant women," Judge Thomas Newton wrote for the majority. "Because we believe that this case raises real and substantial constitutional claims, it is within the Missouri Supreme Court's exclusive jurisdiction.”

The Satanic Temple describes itself as “a nontheistic religious organization dedicated to Satanic practice and the promotion of Satanic rights.”

“The Temple understands the Satanic figure as a symbol of man’s inherent nature, representative of the eternal rebel, enlightened inquiry and personal freedom rather than a supernatural deity of being,” it said in a statement.

In a July 2015 interview with The New York Times, one of the co-founders — who used the pseudonym Malcolm Jarry in the story — said he doesn’t really believe in the Devil but believes in strict separation of church and state. His group also opposes tax exemptions for religious organizations.

The Satanic Temple waded into the culture wars in 2013 by working to sabotage Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s push for voluntary prayer at public school functions by standing on the steps of the state Capitol with a banner declaring, “Hail Satan! Hail Rick Scott!”

Then in 2015, the Satanic Temple inserted itself into the battle over the Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma State House by insisting that they be allowed to place a statue of the goat-headed deity Baphomet near the Christian statue.

"We believe that all monuments should be in good taste and consistent with community standards," Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves (also a pseudonym) wrote in letter to the state's Capitol Preservation Commission. "Our proposed monument, as an homage to the historic/literary Satan, will certainly abide by these guidelines."

The Ten Commandments monument was removed after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that placing it on Capitol grounds violated the Constitution.