Iowa Republican files bill to ban "Satanism on state property"
Sen. Sandy Salmon's misguided bill attempts to legalize religious discrimination in Iowa
This newsletter is free, but it’s only able to sustain itself due to the support I receive from a small percentage of regular readers. Would you please consider becoming one of those supporters? You can use the button below to subscribe to Substack or use my usual Patreon page!
So this is a thing now.
Just days after Arizona Republicans filed a bill to ban Satanic displays on public property, Iowa Republicans have basically copied the text for their own state.
On Monday, State Sen. Sandy Salmon introduced SF 2210, a bill that would ban “Satanic displays or the practice of Satanism on state property.”
It’s not just an attack on religion, because, of course, groups like The Satanic Temple don’t actually worship Satan. It goes after groups that even “reference Satan or Satanism.”
It also calls on the government to take a side in the fictional battle between God and Satan.
The bill is brief, but it’s still a giant mess, so let’s go through it piece by piece.
The state or any political subdivision of the state shall not recognize organizations or individuals who refer to Satan as a deity, worship Satan, or who reference Satan or Satanism as part of the organization's or individual's religious practice as an establishment of religion.
This obviously gets to the heart of religious freedom. The government is forbidden from restricting rights from people on the basis of their religious beliefs. That applies to Satanists and atheists as much as Muslims and Christians. By not recognizing them, the Iowa government would effectively be discriminating on the basis of faith. That’s illegal.
And it’s bizarre to see Salmon go after groups that “refer to Satan as a deity” or who “reference Satan” as part of their faith, because that would presumably punish… Christians. After all, they believe Satan is a fallen angel. They also make constant references to the devil in sermons. No one believes in Satan more than white evangelical Christians.
Displays, symbols, or the practice of Satanic worship shall not be allowed on public property, in public schools, on property owned by public schools, or on any property owned by the state or its political subdivisions.
Since no one’s clamoring for Satanic worship in public schools, the intention here appears to be to stop After School Satan clubs that have popped up in response to (Christian) Good News Clubs. By allowing the latter but not the former, though, it would be a lawsuit in the making. (Just to be clear, ASS clubs do not worship Satan or indoctrinate children. They are like science clubs with a devilish twist.)
Any act of Satanic practice or worship that involves the ending of a life or the shedding of blood, whether the sacrifice be an animal or human, is prohibited.
Either Salmon thinks Satanists are actually performing blood sacrifices… or she’s trying to prevent The Satanic Temple from using their “religious abortion ritual” claim to get around anti-abortion laws… by pretending fetuses are humans. (No animals or humans are harmed in those rituals.)
A violation of subsection 2 or 3 is a criminal offense subject to prosecution under the laws of the state.
No specific penalty is listed in the bill. But Salmon wants to make it a crime to practice Satanism (however it’s defined) in public spaces while other religious are given a pass to do whatever the hell they want.
The next part of the bill is nothing more than Christian Nationalism in writing.
The general assembly finds that the Constitution of the State of Iowa acknowledges the supreme being to whom we owe gratitude for blessings received and upon whom we depend for future blessings.
While the Iowa Constitution does make reference to a “Supreme Being” in the preamble (and literally nowhere else), the actual document, much like the U.S. Constitutional, is very explicit about the separation of church and state, saying, “The General Assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Salmon is using common rhetoric of the time to establish her religion as the official position of the government.
The general assembly finds that there is a wide range of differing views among its citizens regarding which establishment of religion or religions represent the one supreme being upon which we depend. Though a long line of historical evidence exists showing that the values found in the Judeo-Christian faith are fundamental to the foundations and freedoms of the United States of America, the state of Iowa, in accordance with the long-established history, heritage, and tradition of the United States, does not grant favored status to any establishment of religion as the official religion of the state of Iowa.
Salmon is saying Christians are not to be considered superior to other religions, which is fine, but she implies that monotheism is absolutely the “official” position of the state. She suggests belief in God, if not a particularly label, is the default in Iowa. That’s just as egregious a statement and it violates the U.S. Constitution.
The general assembly finds that good and evil exist. The supreme being, upon whom we depend for continued blessings, personifies that which is good. Evil is personified in the creature known as Satan. It is the duty of the government to play an appropriate role in protecting the inhabitant residents of Iowa from evil while encouraging and facilitating good. It is legally and constitutionally inconsistent to afford Satan, who is universally understood to be an enemy of God, religious expression on public property by a state government that depends upon God for continued blessings. Such a legal view violates our state constitution and offends the God upon whom we depend and undermines our well-being.
What the hell is this? Why should the Iowa government take a position on good and evil when the people of Iowa have very different ideas about what’s good and what’s evil? (Abortion? Same-sex marriage? Guns?) Elected officials are constantly debating whether various policies are good or evil. To say that God is “good” ignores every horrible thing God does in the Christian holy book. (As the famous Richard Dawkins line goes, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”)
The people of Iowa don’t need protection from Satan.
They need protection from the Republicans who claim to act on behalf of God.
The general assembly finds that all people have freedom of conscience. The state of Iowa does not recommend Satanic practice in any form; however, the state of Iowa acknowledges that individuals are free under the Constitution of the State of Iowa to practice Satanic worship in their private thoughts and on their private property in ways that do not violate any Iowa law or harm or infringe on others.
If this is meant to be a bread crumb, it’s still useless. We know people are allowed to believe whatever they want. But treating one religious group differently from any other is not just illegal; it’s a slippery slope that no government should be toying with. Laws that prohibit bad behavior should be applied to everyone regardless of faith. Actions that hurt innocent people should be punished regardless of belief.
None of the caveats undo the underlying unconstitutionality of this bill.
So why is Salmon doing this? Probably because she’s furious that a Satanic display went up in the State Capitol alongside a Nativity scene. A Christian zealot, Michael Cassidy, vandalized the display, and he has since been charged with a hate crime.
But Salmon thinks the real problem here is that Satanists requested a display at all, not that a religious extremist couldn’t handle a pluralistic venue. Instead of going after bigots, she’s punishing the people whose religious views are different from her own.
Salmon, by the way, became a senator in a red district in 2022 after serving several years in the State House. She’s a MAGA cultist and conspiracy theorist who tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
There’s no reason to think Republicans in Iowa will pass this bill since it’s blatantly illegal and dead on arrival in any court. Still, the bill sends a message to the Republican base that Christian lawmakers will do everything in their power to promote their faith while denigrating others.
The response, from The Satanic Temple, has been predictable largely since the law isn’t ambiguous on this issue:
Lucien Greaves, the co-founder of The Satanic Temple, says the proposal shows a complete ignorance of constitutional law and what religious liberty means.
“While you might not like public displays of one type, there is a whole unraveling that takes place when you start allowing the government to pick and choose which forms of expression they agree with, narrow their definition of what they think an appropriate religion is and also try to give nonbelief in general a lower tier in citizenship,” he said.
Greaves spoke directly to proponents of these kinds of bills in his own post:
… You have become symbols of self-licensing and thoughtless disregard. As emissaries of your god, you are causing people to see only his despotism and inhumanity. You have taught us to seek other means through which to express true ethical, humanistic values.
You have abandoned Liberal Democracy in the name of your god, and in doing so, you have given the future to Satan.
This bill has not yet been scheduled for debate.