RELIGION
01/22/2018 11:47 pm ET

Satanic Temple Religious Challenge To Missouri Abortion Law Heads To Court

"Mary Doe" argues that the law is based on a religious ideology contrary to her own.

A lawsuit filed by a member of the Satanic Temple challenging Missouri’s abortion law on religious grounds heads to the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The lawsuit invokes the same First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act protections that the Hobby Lobby company in Oklahoma successfully cited to refuse contraception coverage for its female employees on religious grounds.

Plaintiff Mary Doe is arguing that Missouri’s abortion law violated her rights to religious liberty.

She “would be the first to admit her religious beliefs are outside the mainstream thinking of many Christians in Missouri,” the suit states. “Indeed, some would label her with the sobriquet ‘Satanist.’ But if religious freedom is going to have any meaning under RFRA, the court must accord Mary Doe the same respect for her religious beliefs it would grant Mother Theresa.” 

The state has essentially established a religious indoctrination program intended to push a single ideological viewpoint. Satanic Temple spokesman Jex Blackmore

The activist Satanic Temple, based in Salem, Massachusetts, does “not promote a belief in a personal Satan,” according to its website. Its mission includes encouraging “benevolence and empathy among all people,” rejecting “tyrannical authority” and advocating for justice.

Doe’s suit, initially filed in 2015, argues that Missouri’s so-called “Informed Consent” abortion law aimed to convince Doe ― contrary to her religious beliefs ― that abortion is murder. The law also sought to cause her “guilt and shame to dissuade her from getting an abortion” and “punish her for her beliefs,” according to the suit.

Doe has the “right to reject any part of any medical procedure on religious grounds,” the suit states. Nevertheless, Doe, who obtained an abortion in a St. Louis clinic in 2015, was required by Missouri law to view an ultrasound of her fetus and read what she considered a “political and religious statement” that life begins at conception. In addition, she was required to wait 72 hours after her first appointment before she could obtain an abortion. She was forced to incur all costs of the law’s requirements, including for the ultrasound and lodging.

Doe gave the clinic a letter before the difficult process, stating her “deeply held religious beliefs that a non-viable fetus is not a separate human being but is part of her body,” and that abortion “does not terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being,” as the Missouri reading material insists. 

Doe’s religious tenets also hold that her body is “inviolable and subject to her will alone” and that her health decisions must be based on the “best scientific understanding of the world,” the suit states.

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

Missouri argued that the requirements were not “unduly restrictive on Doe’s asserted exercise of religion.”

A lower court ruled against the suit in 2016. But the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals determined unanimously last year that the case “raises real and substantial constitutional claims,” and transferred it to the Missouri Supreme Court. State Attorney General Josh Hawley said in a statement then that he would vigorously defend “Missouri’s sensible waiting period law from this challenge by the Satanic Temple in the Missouri Supreme Court.”

Arguments begin Tuesday.

In 2016, the Satanic Temple launched after-school programs as a counterpoint to conservative Christian lessons being taught after class at public schools. 

In a 2015 interview with The New York Times that characterized the temple as “mischievous,” one of the temple’s co-founders said he didn’t really believe in the devil — but does believe in the strict separation of church and state.

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