The First Amendment is awesome. I love it. Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Peaceful assembly. What’s so great is that it applies to everyone. Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, left wing, right wing, LGBTQ+, Satanists . . .
Wait—what? I hadn’t really thought about that last one. But one town over, as recently announced by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania officially got its first “After School Satan Club.” And hey, it’s the First Amendment, right? It does apply to everyone—even Satan enthusiasts. If they want to keep “educatin’ with Satan,” as they put it, who are we to stand in their way? This is American democracy, after all.
The Thing about Satan
Here’s the thing, though: Satan’s been the most passionate supporter of free speech since the dawn of time. That whole bit about Congress not “abridging the freedom of speech”—that was his guinea pig. And I have to say, it worked wonders . . . for him. I mean, for the rest of us, it tore the world apart and set fire to the moral fabric of the universe. But it worked well for him.
Here’s how it went down. God told Adam and Eve they could eat from every tree in the grand old Garden of Eden, except for one. There was one exception to the freedom and gratuity of God (and even that exception was a sort of freedom in hidden form).
And then Satan slithered in with the whole free speech thing. Basically, he accused God of holding out on them, of censoring their expressive growth and experience. First he twisted God’s words, and then he directly opposed them. When Eve set God’s penalty of death before the serpent, he responded with a call to free expression. “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Gen. 3:4–5). God, in other words, is withholding freedom from you because he doesn’t want you to get what he possesses. It’s a classic Marxist power dynamic, the oppressor (God, in this case) keeping the oppressed in place.
Except it’s not. Aside from the fact that God is the opposite of an oppressor, the “freedom” Satan encouraged Adam and Eve to exercise wasn’t true freedom. It was a counterfeit. See, there’s no such thing as pure freedom. We’re always free from something in order to be free to something or someone else. In the Garden of Eden, Satan encouraged Adam and Eve to be free from God so that they could be free to him. What does freedom to Satan look like? We can express it in what I consider a theological curse word: autonomy. To be autonomous is to be a law unto yourself, to do whatever you like without submitting to a higher authority. If that sounds like trying to be God, it is. As John Mark Comer paraphrased Satan’s speech at that pivotal moment in human history: “If you seize autonomy from God and do your own thing with me, you’ll be better off.” Don’t miss that phrase “with me.” Freedom from God is freedom to Satan. There is no such thing as pure freedom.
We could say, in a sense, that Satan prompted Adam and Eve to claim the rights of a primal First Amendment. “Don’t let God censor you! Say ‘No’ to him.” Free speech in this case was really Satan’s speech. And as a colleague put it recently, “Satan’s speech is never free.” It always comes with a cost. Freedom from one lord entails service to another. In the end, we don’t really have access to free speech in its purest form, without any strings attached. That’s God’s thing. He’s the only being who can claim autonomy. He’s the only one whose speech is truly free. But it’s also the only speech that’s truly freeing.
More about the Group
“Hold on,” you might think. “Does this Satan Club actually worship Satan?” While the club is sponsored by The Satanic Temple, Inc., this newly launched extracurricular claims to serve 5 to 12 year-olds, offering science instruction, community service opportunities, arts and crafts, and maybe some fun snacks (Do they make Satan-shaped goldfish?) The Satanic Temple, apparently, doesn’t claim to worship Satan either. Instead—get this—they claim to stand against “tyrannical authority” and advocate for “individual sovereignty,” as well as empathy, compassion, and personal freedom based on reason and science. Individual sovereignty . . . that’s autonomy. You don’t have to claim to worship Satan in order to worship him. He’ll take faithfulness to his core principle of autonomy any day.
Satan may have switched up his methods over the centuries, but he’s still got the same mission statement: to deceive people into thinking that they can be autonomous. And as soon as he has successfully deceived a human, he has effectively received a slave. A slave to what, exactly? A slave to the kingdom of self, a place where division and personal expression reign supreme. And, ironically, that’s the most “tyrannical authority” of all. How can I free myself from the self-imposed tyrant of . . . me? That’s the disturbing brilliance of Satan’s strategy: he can get us to serve ourselves and be utterly convinced that we aren’t serving him in the process.
And when we all serve ourselves, there is no unity. Mark that word. The “success” of an after school Satan club will simply look like a growing tribe of humans who care nothing about finding commonality with others. Division is the disease of the devil.
Measure the Freedom of Speech
Now, surely our founding fathers didn’t have the Satanic Temple in mind when they wrote the First Amendment; they were actually thinking of “freedom of denominations” within Christianity: Catholic to Protestant. They were coming from a country whose state church had excessive control over religious expression, including the power and means to persecute dissenters. The First Amendment in America was thus meant to give citizens denominational breathing room, but it’s been expanded to include far more than that. And so in that sense, it did create breathing room for citizens—a whole lot of it. But what might not have been perceived at the time was how breathing room can start to pollute the air itself.
That doesn’t mean the First Amendment is bad. Far from it! But it does mean something we often overlook: we need to measure the freedom of speech, to weigh its worth and consequences for others. When I say “measure,” I don’t mean “limit.” I mean estimate or appraise according to a given criterion. What is that criterion? You probably know my answer to that, as a Bible-believing Christian. Deciding on a criterion for the public is another article . . . or book . . . or series of books.
But the point is, since freedom from is always freedom to, we need to start thinking more earnestly about what standards or values shape something like free speech. Some are already in place, of course. My free speech cannot cause harm to another human being. But when we’re talking about the moral fabric of a country, its spirit, we will need to go further than negatives. We need more input on what free speech can do versus what it cannot do. And that’s where a world of disagreement erupts. Amidst that disagreement, we need to measure the effects of our freedom of speech, for no speech is truly and utterly free. It always costs someone something.
What does any of this really mean for us? What difference does it make that a seemingly harmless Satan Club cropped up in a school the next town over? Well, there are lots of things I could say, but I’ll leave you with this: if Satan is in on our First Amendment practice, you can be sure he’s in elsewhere. He’s even in that American call to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As one theologian wrote, “The devil would love for you to be perfectly happy, so long as you are not holy. He knows happily unholy people rob glory from God and go happily to hell.”
Being happy and speaking freely aren’t as simple as they seem. The devil is in the details, in the motives and the effects. Satan loves the First Amendment for the opposite reasons that we do. For us, it grants breathing room for discussion and perspective. For him, working behind the scenes of souls, it’s the shortest path to self-governance. And that’s always been the anthem of Satan’s nation. If Satan can get people to fully believe that they govern themselves, then he’ll be in the perfect position to have them do exactly what he’s always wanted them to do: destroy each other. For Satan, free speech is a matter of self-governance, as The Satanic Temple states on its website. What they don’t state is what happens when we have a country full of utterly selfish, tiny tyrants: war—in schools, in public engagement, in culture. War everywhere.
That’s Satan on the First Amendment for you. Where we go from here is a matter of people becoming more conscious of what they are free to.
- Pierce Taylor Hibbs, "What Does It Mean to Be Secular?"
- Pierce Taylor Hibbs, "Engaging with Culture"
- Pierce Taylor Hibbs, "The Deathwork of Devilish Dance"