MISSISSIPPI FLAG FLAP OVER gOD & SATAN ASKS: WHO DO YOU TRUST?
You may have heard the Satanic Temple wants to put “In Satan We Trust” on the Mississippi flag. I’m not so sure.
I mean, I don’t really know–they certainly wouldn’t tell me if they did. But looking at their statement on the topic, I get the idea that things might be a little more complicated than that. Yes, complication and nuance in Satanism, who’d have imagined?
Mississippi governor Tate Reeves signed a bill in June that finally folded the old, racist-as-fuck Mississippi flag, leaving everyone struggling to spell out what Mississippi wants its public face to be in the 21st century.
Seems that the bar (or stars & bars, in this case) is pretty low to begin with. But I don’t live there, so I imagine folks will M-I-S-S my I-P-P-inion about it anyway.
The just-retired flag is actually the second in Mississippi state history. The original standard included a pretty Magnolia tree, but the Mississippi Historical Society says that a state constitutional convention accidentally nullified the old flag after the Civil War. Democracy inaction.
A new flag didn’t unfurl until 29 years later, the product of lawyer and State Senator Edward Scudder. Scud’s daughter told a 1924 convention audience, “My father loved those brave men who wore the gray.”
He ought to be happy, I get a little gray myself every time anyone says shit like that.
The first attempt to nix the bar-spangled banner came with a ballot referendum in 2001. The election results show that just under 36 percent of Mississippi voters wanted to blow the Scud flag, while a little more than 64 percent opted to keep it.
By the way, according to the US Census, the black population of Mississippi in 2001 was 1,033,809–almost exactly 36 percent. Hmmm.
Mississippi’s Lt. Governor (wait for it) Delbert Hosemann and Attorney General Lynn Fitch proposed a new design this month that includes the phrase “In god We Trust,” although as of right now there is no official new flag design for consideration.
Still, the possibility of the deific dictum waving into the fray provoked the Satanic Temple to suggest that the state might be flagging down litigation. But if you read the letter the Temple sent to the AG, the “In Satan We Trust” thing seems like more of a rhetorical point:
“We can imagine that there would be some Mississippians who would be a bit put off by the words ‘In Satan We Trust.’ If you can imagine that, then you might imagine how atheists, Satanists, and other people of non-theistic faiths could feel excluded by ‘In god We Trust.'”
Actually, I’m not quite sure they can imagine that. And, awkwardly enough, the law might be on their side on that one: See, according to federal courts, we should all feel included by “In god We Trust.”
Not because it’s assumed we all subscribe to such a religious statement. But because, per the court’s thinking, this is not a religious statement at all.
In 1970, one Stefan Ray Aronow–described in historian Frank Joseph Sorauf’s book The Wall of Separation as an only glancingly politically involved history student at UC Davis–tried to sue over the phrase “In god We Trust” on currency.
Aronow complained that “the government had taken sides in the religious disagreements of Americans,” which to be fair is only true if you’re one of those people who knows what words mean. Amazingly but perhaps not surprisingly, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that there’s actually nothing religious about god, at least not in this context.
Said the decision:
“It is quite obvious that the national motto ‘In god We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character. It is not easy to discern any religious significance attendant the payment of a bill with coin or currency on which has been imprinted ‘In god We Trust,’ or the study of a government publication or document bearing that slogan.”
So talking about god is not a religious thing. How can you tell? Well, “it’s quite obvious,” duh. Aronow complained that this instance of government speech did not represent him, and the government replied, in effect, “Sure it does, you just don’t know it.”
As for the question of whether merely paying for something can be a religious act or not, the Ninth Circuit really ought to spend some time catching up with the Mark of the Beast paranoiacs.
This ruling, and the similar ones over the years, hold that in cases like this, the word “god” does not have a religious meaning, but rather a “ceremonial” and “patriotic” one. For this conceit, Dean of Yale Law School Eugene Rostow coined the phrase “ceremonial deism.”
Seems to me if you want to convince people this isn’t a religious thing that words like “deism” really give the game away. Even so that’s the law, at least for the time being.
So, if we can trust in god in a way that is, somehow, utterly and legally secular, can we trust in Satan too? If we say “Hail Satan” or “In Satan We Trust” in a purely ceremonial and patriotic light, would the courts afford those statements the same protections?
I’m not a fancy, big-city lawyer, but I suspect I could argue that at least some of the time, what Satanists mean when we say “Satan” is very similar to what “ceremonial deists” (whoever those may be…) mean when they say “god.”
Meaning that, in the eyes of this law if nothing else, god and Satan are interchangeable. Possibly even–the same thing? You can imagine how that assertion would go over with the Mississippi set. But there’s the rub: How could anyone argue against this without resorting to an explicitly religious opinion?
If the word “god” has no particular special meaning in this context, then why can’t we swap it out? What’s it even doing there anyway? And if we decide that only the word “god” is properly patriotic and ceremonial for these purposes, how can we continue to argue that it doesn’t have meaning beyond that?
Well, not being a lawyer, I don’t have to argue these things. I also don’t have to live in Mississippi. But as long as I’m an American I do have to live with the court’s answers. And I’m not sure just how much trust I put in that these days.