A satanic group has announced they have been granted recognition as a church by the Internal Revenue Service.
In a statement published Thursday, the Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple said that they have received notice from the IRS and that the decision would grant the organization equal legal footing with other religious groups.
“This acknowledgement will help make sure the Satanic Temple has the same access to public spaces as other religious organizations, affirm our standing in court when battling religious discrimination, and enable us to apply for faith-based government grants,” the statement said.
The IRS has not commented on any conferral of status for the group, but guidance published on its website confirms that churches benefit from special tax rules, including automatic exemption from federal income tax.
IRS regulations draw a clear distinction between “churches” and other religious organizations. A church must have certain characteristics, according to IRS requirements, including: a recognized creed and form of worship; distinct ecclesiastical government; formal code of doctrine; ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study; established places of worship and regular religious services.
Despite its overtly demonic allegiance, the Satanic Temple was founded by professed atheists and articulates a set of secular humanist beliefs. Its satanic imagery appears to many to be a deliberate provocation in response to what the group perceive as interference by religion in the public square.
In a 2013 interview, the group’s spokesman, Douglas Mesner, described their intention to be a “poison pill in the Church-State debate.” They have previously mounted lawsuits to display satanic images and statues on public property alongside traditional Judeo-Christian symbols, such as the Ten Commandments.
In February of 2019, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against a self-professed member of the Satanic Temple who claimed that a state law on “informed consent” before an abortion violated her religious beliefs.
Mary Doe, as the plaintiff was listed in that case, argued that a booklet distributed to all women seeking abortion in the state was a violation of her religious beliefs and an articulation by the state of an alternative religious creed.
The case focused on the booklet’s statement that “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
The apparent recognition of the IRS comes after members of the Satanic Temple have had to defend themselves against accusations that their “church” is essentially a political stunt. A recent documentary entitled “Hail, Satan?” presented the group as sincere, despite ongoing suggestions that the temple was founded to make a “mockumentary” film and is essentially performance art and political theatre.
Whatever the sincerity of its founders, its conflict with the Catholic Church have been real.
In May 2014, the Satanic Temple was part of an attempt to organize a “black mass” on the campus of Harvard University. A spokesman for the group initially told the media that a consecrated Host would be desecrated during the event, although the temple and the Harvard club hosting the event both later denied this.
Following sustained outcry from Catholics and other religious groups, the event was first moved off campus and eventually cancelled.