A recently leaked draft opinion which revealed that a majority of the US Supreme Court had approved to overturn Roe v. Wade had initially resulted in street protests across the nation, but now social media has stepped into the picture with claims on various sites coaxing users to join satanic temples for the protection of abortion rights.
One such claim emerged on Facebook on May 4, captioned as: "I joined the Satanic Temple today to protect my bodily autonomy. It's free to sign up online if anyone is interested. thesatanictemple.com", urging users to turn to Satanic Temple to win the fight against the anti-abortion law. A few others were reported on Twitter as well.
Known as a non-theistic religious organization, the Satanic temple (TST) does not really worship the devil, contrary to popular belief instead its main aim is to "reject tyrannical authority" and "oppose injustice." Founded in 2013 and recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt church in 2019, the human rights organization had previously vowed to fight for its member's abortion rights, which it claims would be a sacred ritual protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The organization has made it very clear that it has a "number of plans" to deal with the anti-abortion law, "States that outlaw abortion and do not grant exceptions present more significant challenges, but TST has a number of plans that we will be undertaking quite soon," TST said.
While it is true that the organization is attempting to tackle the issue of abortion rights, legal experts believe that becoming a part of the institution is not required.
Mark Tushnet, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law emeritus at Harvard Law School, states that such a claim is "not quite false [technically accurate in at least some cases] but more than a little misleading," in an email to Lead Stories on May 4.
Tushnet explained the complicated process in simple terms, "If the new member holds the beliefs associated with the Satanic Temple sincerely, and not opportunistically, she would be able to claim protection under the federal RFRA for actions against her by the federal government and under state RFRAs where they exist," he said.
However, he added that a 'sincere belief' would allow for RFRA protections but that does not necessarily imply that the action would be protected. The government has an overriding authority over all RFRAs on grounds of 'religious beliefs for compelling reasons', and if the argument of protecting what they call as a human life surfaces then the government will definitely win.
"So, in the end, I think it unlikely that joining the Satanic Temple would actually provide protection against prosecution for having an abortion," Tushnet stated.
Referring to RFRA as "not substantial enough claim", Ric Simmons, the Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer Professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, told Lead Stories that any regulation that outlaws abortion is applicable 'indiscriminately' to everyone, hence is no space for a religious exemption under the first amendment.
Also weighing in on the misleading claims emerging on social media, Samuel D. Brunson, the Georgia Reithal professor at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, stated that he's "pretty sure that the Satanic Temple is positioning itself to challenge anti-abortion legislation in various states."
He believes that while it is possible for a member of the non-theistic organization to challenge the aforementioned laws on the basis of a religious belief in bodily autonomy, the state might come up with a much stronger and better argument and prevail.
In an email to the Lead Stories, Brunson wrote, "The Satanic Temple's approach is clever. And it highlights a real inconsistency among people who insist both on untrammeled religious liberty and prohibitions on abortion. But joining the Satanic Temple is unlikely to allow an individual in, for instance, Texas or Louisiana ignore state abortion bans."