Late last month, Mississippi lawmakers decided they would retire their old racist flag with a Confederate symbol on it and choose a new one in the near future.
After getting rid of the symbol, there was just one rule: The new flag had to include the words “In God We Trust.”
That’s not going to happen without a legal fight. The Satanic Temple has announced they plan to sue the state if lawmakers move forward with a religious flag. According to a letter sent to Attorney General Lynn Fitch last week, the group’s lawyer explained the concern:
… While the Satanic Temple supports the removal of the Confederate flag, removing one divisive symbol of exclusion only to replace it with a divisive phrase of exclusion does not eliminate exclusion, but rather moves it from one group to a collection of others.
My client would like to suggest that if Mississippi is going to place a religious phrase on its flag, it should include reference to Satan…
The letter highlights the group’s Seven Tenets — which are far more moral than the Ten Commandments — as justification for why their version of Satanism is “more consistent with Mississippian values.”
But the lawyer admits adding “In Satan We Trust” could rub citizens the wrong way:
If you can imagine that, then you might imagine how atheists, Satanists, and other people of non-theistic faiths could feel excluded by the addition of “In God we Trust” to the state flag.
Having made the point, the group asks that their request be considered.
… and if Mississippi moves forward with the religious change anyway, then the fun will really begin.
… should the state of Mississippi insist on placing this exclusionary religious phrase on its flag, we do intend to file suit and seek injunctive relief against this act.
They note that, in 1979, an appellate court ruled (and the Supreme Court affirmed) that the phrase “In God We Trust” on money was not a violation of the First Amendment. But it would be foolish to rely on that, said the lawyer: “We believe that the facts in that case and the particular act we would seek to enjoin are distinguishable.”
The Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves told me the motivation behind this letter in an email last night:
… As Satanists it’s only appropriate that we ensure Satan is equally represented, but clearly the state opens itself up to an endless number of claims from other religious identifications if they foolishly decide to endorse a religious message at all. Hopefully, our request will help them to think more clearly about mottos that show respect for constitutionally protected religious liberty and pluralism.
I’m not a lawyer, but it’s hard to imagine any lawsuit would get anywhere. But it’s still worth pointing out that “In God We Trust” is a Christian message. If it’s considered “secular” by the courts at all, that’s only because Christians have been promoting it for so long, judges think of it as tradition. They shouldn’t. Everyone seeing that phrase on the state flag would know damn well which “god” it’s referring to.
If Mississippi wanted its flag to be inclusive and welcoming, putting a controversial religious phrase on it would be the wrong way to go. Understanding that, however, would require politicians willing to see beyond their Jesus-tinted glasses. It’s not going to happen.
(Image via Shutterstock)