You wouldn’t guess local attorney Stu de Haan is a devout Satanist, based on superficial appearances and preconceived stereotypes our society associates with the religion.
When I meet De Haan, a spokesperson and lawyer for The Satanic Temple, a new-age subsect of the Satanist religion, he seems pretty “normal.”
His home is also quite expectedly normal. It’s open and modern, has wine-colored walls and smells of spicy vanilla incense. The vibe is reminiscent of that of a yoga studio, honestly. The only thing that physically denotes de Haan’s association with the Satanic Temple is a flag bedecked with the TST logo hung above his fake Christmas tree.
The Satanic Temple—whose followers, in fact, don’t actually worship Satan or any religious deity, for that matter—has recently been getting quite a bit of press in Tucson and throughout Arizona.
The group, whose Tucson chapter was founded this February, effectively sounded the alarm and raised hell within the chambers of Scottsdale and Phoenix’s city councils when they requested to give an invocation in place of a traditional prayer before meetings at each respective council.
De Haan says he didn’t anticipate the controversy that would result after the group requested that a representative from the Satanic Temple be given the opportunity to deliver an invocation speech at a city council meeting.
“We had no idea it would create the complete meltdown of the city councils, where they didn’t know how to handle this,” he says. “Where they never had a religious group … they never had much of an alternative viewpoint that was requesting to do these public invocations.”
Both the Phoenix and Scottsdale councils have thus far refused to allow Satanic Temple member and spokesperson Michelle Shortt to give an invocation before their meetings.
The Scottsdale council originally booked a date for Shortt, a Tucson local, but cancelled it because only “representatives from institutions that have a substantial connection to the Scottsdale community” are allowed to give the invocation, Scottsdale city spokesman Kelly Corsette told the Arizona Republic.
De Hann thinks the council created the rule solely to bar the invocation because they don’t understand—or care to understand—the Satanic Temple’s actual goals.
“We’re not what they think we are,” de Haan says. “We’re really demonstrating that freedom of speech, freedom of religion, applies to your worst enemy whether you like it or not. That’s what this country was founded on. You open the door to God, you open the door to the devil.”
The Republic reported in the same story that Shortt’s speech would ask Scottsdale residents attending the city council meeting “to embrace a ‘Luciferian impulse’ before closing the prayer with ‘hail Satan.'” De Haan says the Temple is currently pursuing litigation against the city.
Dealing with the invocation bars from the Phoenix and Scottsdale city councils has turned into what the Satanic Temple calls a “campaign.” The group takes on several progressive activist campaigns that encompass the realm of ensuring separation of church and state, Shortt says.
In Tucson, specifically, the Temple is working to implement a new after-school program to counter the evangelical Good News Club.
The program is called After School Satan, and would offer students a space to discuss and partake in art, science and rationalism-related endeavors. Currently, TUSD is kind of giving TST the run-around regarding the logistics of becoming a school-sponsored or non-school-sponsored after school program, Shortt says.
The program put an ominous video teaser to After School Satan online that features black and white shots of children, a sinister voice over and high-pitched ringing. The idea of even using the devil as a religious metaphor is a bit off-putting, and de Haan says this is the point—the Temple doesn’t want to appeal to everyone.
“We’re the least popular religion that exists in the Western world,” he says. “And to us, that’s part of the religion—that’s part of being the adversary. And the metaphor of Satan is the ultimate rebel against tyranny, and the ultimate tyrant to us is God.”
The Satanic Temple’s various campaigns, which encompass issues including abortion and the construction of religious effigies in public spaces, are evidence of Satanists affiliated with TST actively worshipping, Shortt says, because they worship through activist efforts.
This is one of the defining differences between TST-affiliated Satanists and other Satanists—namely those associated with the Church of Satan, which is a secretive, “underground” group, according to De Haan. He says the Satanic Temple actively attempts to be as transparent as possible and keep the public informed of what they do, and why they do it.
Shortt says since our society already stereotypes and stigmatizes Satanists by default, they can serve as scapegoats in order to create positive change through their activist campaigns.
“Atheists, humanists—others have tried to get equal representation, but really haven’t been taken seriously, [so] we kind of step in,” she says. “And the decision usually either comes to [a government entity] removing the practice that was discriminatory, or they allow us, which will in turn allow a platform for everybody to be included.”
The Satanic Temple is selective when choosing which campaigns to undertake, according to Shortt. She says many new members want the Temple to encompass a wide variety of issues, but that isn’t possible, given the group’s very specific church-state activist goals.
“We mostly focus on separation of church and state issues, bodily autonomy—anything where a person’s rights are being discriminated against, just because they are not ‘popular’ in society’s view,” Shortt says.
Shortt says being outspoken about the aspects that makes Satanists different or non-conforming in our society is what makes the Satanic Temple what it is.
“It’s a stance of the Satanic Temple that anybody who doesn’t conform—you know, if you’re a feminist, or an intelligent woman, if you celebrate your sexuality, if you’re gay, if you’re just different—somebody somewhere considers you a Satanist,” Shortt said.