Fact Check

Obama Allows Satanic Ceremony at State Capitol

A "Satanic ceremony" held by a group in Lansing in December 2015 was neither literally Satanic nor in any way sanctioned by President Obama.

Published Jan. 22, 2016

President Obama permitted the first-ever Satanic ceremony at a State Capitol.
What's True

The Satanic Temple of Detroit held a protest event on 19 December 2015 at Michigan's State Capitol, with permission for the event granted by a Michigan state agency.

What's False

President Obama did not approve, undersign, or "allow" the event, nor was the protest a genuine "Satanic ceremony."

On 31 December 2015, the unreliable web site America's Freedom Fighters published an article headlined "BREAKING: Obama Allows Nation’s First SATANIC Ceremony at State Capitol in History." The supposedly "breaking" item pertained to a 19 December 2015 event that was widely covered in local news reports:

As our nation watches God and Christianity constantly being assaulted, I find this particular event very disturbing. This is a microcosm of what our nation has became. I was once told that what was once was good, will become bad and what was bad will be looked upon as good. With gatherings such as this and 20 feet tall satanic statues popping up as the 10 commandment monuments are taken down, I believe it.

Honestly I believe this is a prelude to even more sinister plans, it is not as innocent as their making it out to be, the masses are being tricked into acceptance. The very same freedoms guaranteed by our constitution are being used against us to silence those who dares speak against such things. I wanted to pass a short video along with you to show you exactly what I mean, I’m still in disbelief.

On December 19, the Satanic Temple of Detroit held a ceremony on the steps of the state Capitol in Lansing, MI.

This was the nation’s first state-sanctioned satanists ceremony in history.

The article's headline suggested that the event in question had been undersigned by President Obama himself, and the unqualified use of "State Capitol" misleadingly hinted that the content referenced a federal building in Washington, D.C.

In early December 2015 the the Detroit Free Press published an article about the then-upcoming ceremony, noting that the Satanic Temple isn't a real satanic group but rather a secular organization that protests religious displays on public grounds:

The Cruz Nativity is planned for the evenings of Dec. 12 and 13. Jex Blackmore, director of the Detroit Satanist group, said at a religious liberty rally Wednesday at the Capitol that they were waiting for approval from the Michigan State Capitol Commission to perform a live display of their own on Dec. 19. That would be the same day state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, plans to sponsor a Nativity display.

“The overriding message in our holiday display, and many of the Satanic Temple’s public activities, is one of plurality and religious liberty," Blackmore said in a written statement. "We have no interest in proselytizing Satanism to the public. However, we refuse to allow one religious perspective (to) dominate the discourse."

The Satanic Temple, a loosely organized national group, doesn't actually worship the Christian devil. It is a secular organization closely aligned with atheist groups in protesting religious displays on public grounds.

"Freedom of speech may be inconvenient, messy, and at times offensive, but that is the cost of living in a free country," Wendy Day, Michigan state director for the Cruz campaign, said in an e-mailed statement. "America was founded on the principles of free speech and freedom of religion ... We don't have to agree on religious principles to stand together for the right of free speech."

This reporting contained a number of important pieces of context absent from the America's Freedom Fighters article: that the group involved was secular (not actually "Satanic"), that the event was a protest of non-secular displays in government spaces, and that the only official agency whose permission was sought was the Michigan State Capitol Commission. President Obama was neither mentioned nor involved, directly or indirectly, in the reported events.

The Lansing State Journal published an article reporting that other groups had also applied for permits to set up counter-religious displays:

This is the second year that the group has placed its "Snaketivity," a statue of a snake slithering around a cross, on the Capitol lawn. The Satanist group doesn't actually worship the Christian devil. Rather, it is aligned with atheist groups in protesting religious displays on public grounds.

The group's overarching goal is to cause state officials to ban religious displays of any kind at the Capitol, Blackmore said.

"We think that it promotes an idea of exclusion to a diverse community," she said.  "It's best if none of these displays are placed on Capitol property, but, again, since there’s one we want to be kind of in conversation with those displays."

[State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge]said other groups approved for display permits this holiday season, including the  Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and The Humanity Fund, which will install a Gay Pride Festivus Pole, also hope to ban religious displays at the Capitol.

Lansing television station WILX covered the event after its conclusion:

Supporters of the Satanic Temple gathered at the steps of the Capitol to show what they say is the need for religious freedom.

The Temple came from Detroit after being approved to perform the ceremony at the steps of the Capitol. Some locals say they are happy that the groups brings diversity to the capital.

The Detroit Metro Times also reported on the protest:

Detroit's Satanic Temple chapter gathered on the Michigan capitol in Lansing to perform what they're calling the "nation's first state-sanctioned Satanic Ceremony in history." The event came one week after Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz supporters held a "live Nativity" display on the capitol grounds.

As with the group's previous public demonstrations, the Satanic Temple says their ceremony was not an anti-Christian protest but rather as a demonstration of religious plurality as well as a stance against the breach of the separation of church and state in the government. 

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.