So, a man is convicted of raping and murdering a teenage girl in El Paso. While in jail and awaiting appeal for his death sentence, he finds religion. As prosecutors argue for the death penalty, his religion is invoked to portray how he’s changed since the crime was committed.
Similar stories to this aren’t uncommon, but usually, the religion that the inmate finds isn’t Satanism.
It is for Irving Davis from El Paso, though, and his current appeal — seeking life in prison, rather than execution — rests on whether or not it was a violation of his First Amendment rights for the prosecution to argue that he was unrepentant and a continuing danger to society because, look, he’s a Satanist.
The arguments against the guy are pretty basic, which makes sense – I mean, it’s Satanism. But I’m really interested in the argument that says it’s a violation to bring it up, because it does, on the surface, make it seem like you have the freedom to hold the beliefs of your choice, but if the religion in question has an offensive name or repugnant views, you can be punished for it in the courts.
And none of those concerns are helped by the judges’ arguments:
“I mean, come on, boil it all down, the Church of Satan?” Judge Michael Keasler said. “You’ve got to be kidding me as to how that’s good, because Satan himself, at least as far as Christian doctrine is concerned, is the epitome of what evil is. If somebody chooses to align themselves with something like that, it certainly would seem relevant.”
It’s kind of weird to be put in the position where you’re defending Satanism, but we should strive for fairness. The fact that “Satan himself… is the epitome of what evil is” in Christian doctrine doesn’t seem at all relevant to me, because Davis isn’t a Christian, and the courts aren’t meant to be, either. So it’s troubling when that comes out of a judge’s mouth. Meanwhile, another judge weighed in:
Judge Lawrence Meyers asked if Satanism should be considered a religion at all, because religions revolve around worshipping a higher power. “Satan’s not an almighty being,” Meyers said.
And, presumably, if it’s not a religion, it’s not protected. But that logic could be applied to a number of religions — and I doubt we really want the courts deciding which religions have central figures who qualify as “almighty beings” and which ones don’t. (Though I’d be interested in seeing the paperwork used to keep it straight.)
And then the argument from Judge Sharon “We Close At Five” Keller insists on taking literally statements by Anton LaVey in the Satanic Bible (note: not the man on trial) where it wouldn’t ever do that for another religion. A Christian isn’t held accountable for the requirement in that disobedient children be stoned to death in Deuteronomy, so it seems unreasonable to hold Davis accountable for the following:
Presiding Judge Sharon Keller noted that the writings of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey seem to espouse human sacrifice or murder, such as this advice from the “Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth”: “If someone bothers you, ask him to stop. If he does not stop, destroy him.”
“What is unreasonable about assuming someone joins a religious organization because he holds beliefs in common with that religion?” Keller asked.
It’s a question that anyone associated with any religion probably doesn’t want the judge answering. Regardless of your beliefs, the idea that they can be used against you — and the idea that judges argue that it’s right and just to do so — should give us all pause. The more cartoonishly “bad” a religion is, the easier it is to start, but just because they initially came for the Satanists doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t be concerned, too.