Satanic Temple has right to gather, US Naval Academy says

Satanic Temple members can gather but not hold services at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where future naval officers are trained (AFP Photo/ALEX WONG)

Washington (AFP) - The Satanic Temple, recognized as a church in the United States, has the right to gather at the US Naval Academy on the condition it does not hold services, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

But the Temple said its Naval Academy members want to hold services and vowed to fight for that "right".

"Recently, a group of Midshipmen with beliefs aligned with those practiced by The Satanic Temple... requested a space where they could assemble to discuss and share their common beliefs," said Commander Alana Garas, a spokeswoman for the academy which trains future naval officers.

"The request was for a 'study group' space, not for holding 'satanic services'," Garas said, calling the Temple "a non-theistic religious and politically active movement" which the Internal Revenue Service recognizes as a church.

"Midshipmen have the right to assemble to discuss their beliefs as they choose," Garas said, but she added that in accordance with Department of Defense policy, military members may not engage in partisan political activities.

On its website, The Satanic Temple distinguishes itself from another organization, the Church of Satan, calling itself "the primary religious Satanic organization in the world."

It says it has chapters around the world and has undertaken "a number of high-profile public campaigns designed to preserve and advance secularism and individual liberties."

In a separate statement, the Temple said it wants "Satanic services" held at the Annapolis, Maryland-based Naval Academy, in accordance with equal treatment for religious denominations, and would take legal action if it is discriminated against.

Religious freedom is constitutionally protected in the United States.

"If the Naval Academy wants to ban Midshipmen of a particular belief from holding services because their church speaks to social issues of political relevance, they will be obligated to deny the services of Catholics for their church's political lobbying against abortion, the services of LDS-affiliated Mormons for their political activism related to gay marriage, and most every Protestant denomination for both," said Lucien Greaves, spokesperson for The Satanic Temple.

The Temple says its mission "is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will."