The Satanic Temple (TST) nontheistic religious group intends to make sure a group of Navy midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Md., are not subject to discrimination. This, after an internal academy email sent last week stated that "satanic services" would start, a note that was subsequently walked back to clarify that some midshipmen had requested space for a "study group," according to officials.
"The notion that members of The Satanic Temple within the Naval Academy could be denied the right to hold services because we are nontheistic and/or politically active has absolutely no credible basis in law or common sense," said a TST spokesman Lucien Greaves. "The Satanic Temple is no more a political cause than the Catholic Church or Southern Baptists."
Naval Academy Public Affairs Officer Cmdr. Alana Garas told Fox News that a group of midshipmen whose "beliefs aligned with those practiced by The Satanic Temple, [a] nontheistic religious and politically active movement based in the U.S., recognized as a church by the Internal Revenue Service," had requested a space for a "study group," not room for "satanic services," as an Oct. 8 internal email had stated.
"Midshipmen have the right to assemble to discuss their beliefs as they choose, but, to be clear, in accordance with Department of Defense policy, military members will not engage in partisan political activities, and will avoid the inference that their activities may appear to imply [Defense Department] approval or endorsement of a political cause," Garas said.
The Satanic Temple's self-described mission is to "encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will."
A nontheist is, by definition, someone who doesn't believe there is a God or gods.
The email erroneously announced that "satanic services" would start this week, Garas said.
"This email was sent without the review and approval of the Naval Academy’s command chaplain, as required by command policy," Garas said. "It did not represent the U.S. Naval Academy’s Command Religious Program."
"The USNA Command Religious Program provides for the exercise of diverse beliefs. Arrangements were being made to provide the midshipmen with a designated place to assemble as chaplains facilitate for the beliefs of all service members, a responsibility outlined by Navy instructions," Garas explained. "Americans embrace a wide array of beliefs, life philosophies and opinions, and our Constitution guarantees to all the right to hold those beliefs and to freely exercise such beliefs," modified by unique requirements accompanying military life.
"The Command Religious Program at the Naval Academy facilitates the opportunity for the free expression of diverse beliefs, but without endorsing any particular belief."
Greaves said if the academy intends to ban midshipmen "of a particular belief from holding services because their church speaks to social issues of political relevance," then the USNA should also "deny the services of Catholics for their church's political lobbying against abortion, the services of [Latter-day Saints]-affiliated Mormons for their political activism related to gay marriage, and most every Protestant denomination for both."
The Satanic Temple said the group would pursue litigation "should the religious liberty of their members within the academy ever be impeded."
"All members of the military, and those within the Naval Academy, have the right to practice their religion, as well as to refuse participation in any and all religious services," Greaves said. "For anybody in the Naval Academy to suggest otherwise would be an insult to those who serve, and to those who care about our fundamental freedoms. We trust that the academy will handle our midshipmens’ request appropriately."