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Annapolis, Md., Oct 19, 2019 / 03:17 am (CNA).- As an outside group is asking to hold “satanic religious services” at the U.S. Naval Academy, questions have arisen as to its actual motives for doing so.

The Satanic Temple (TST), a group recognized as a church by the Internal Revenue Service, has threatened legal action against the U.S. Naval Academy if Midshipmen are not allowed to hold “satanic services” on campus as members of other religions are allowed to do.

However, Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA that the group’s efforts at the Naval Academy are “misleading” because what they wish for “is not a satanic service.”  Rather, what certain Midshipmen wish to host “is a discussion about how the supernatural doesn’t exist.”

On Oct. 8, an internal email was sent to the Brigade of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy announcing that “‘satanic services’ would start this week,” according to a Wednesday statement issued by Commander Alana Garas, public affairs officer at the United States Naval Academy.

“This email was sent without the review and approval of the Naval Academy’s Command Chaplain, as required by command policy; it did not represent the U.S. Naval Academy’s Command Religious Program,” Garas said.

The academy had previously walked back an original email announcement of satanic services and had said that services would not be taking place on campus.

The Satanic Temple then said on Wednesday that it would pursue legal action if the group was “discriminated against” on campus by being denied official services at the academy.

Lucien Greaves, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, called the idea of the group being denied services at the Naval Academy on the grounds that it constituted political advocacy “self-evidently absurd.”

Under that reasoning, he said, the academy would also “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.”

Controversy over the Satanic Temple has been ongoing for years, with critics arguing it is a political-cultural stunt, while temple founders have repeatedly asserted that it is a religion and not merely a hoax or performance.

The group’s mission statement does not include any statements of satanism, but rather claims that it exists “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 by the individual will.”

In a 2013 interview with Vice, the temple’s leader, Lucien Greaves, revealed himself to be a man named Doug Mesner. He said a friend had conceived the Satanic Temple as “a ‘poison pill’ in the Church-State Debate” to help expand the idea of religious agendas in public life.

“So at the inception, the political message was primary,” Mesner said, though he acknowledged that there are self-identified Satanists who deserve “just as much consideration as any other religious group.”

An October 2017 story at Vox portrayed the Satanic Temple as “equal parts performance art group, leftist activist organization, and anti-religion religious movement.” It claimed that though it began as “internet trolling going mainstream,” the organization is becoming “more serious” and “more complicated” to outline. It said chapter leadership members debate which historic works about Satan to recommend and whether it should host more ritual.

Lorence contended that despite adopting the name of The Satanic Temple and using satanic imagery, the group is just “anti-supernatural and rationalistic” rather than satanic like the Church of Satan.

Previously, the group tried to push an “After School Satan” program in 2016, which Lorence saw as an effort to undermine Christian after-school programs at public schools. The group’s strategy, which cited religious freedom laws to demand a space at public schools alongside other religious after-school programs, aimed to use fear of the promotion of satanism as a means to shut down all religious after-school programs.

“The Satanic Temple does not worship Satan,” Lorence said. “They use this ‘Satanic Temple’ label to confuse people.”

And the group could be trying to adopt a similar strategy at the Naval Academy, Lorence said. As a public institution, the academy “is by law open to groups that are student-oriented and student-led.”

According to the academy, a group of Midshipmen whose “beliefs aligned with those practiced by The Satanic Temple” did make a request for a space at the academy, but they asked for a “study space” and not a space to hold “satanic services,” Commander Garas said.

The academy’s official statement on Wednesday said that the Command Religious Program “provides for the exercise of diverse beliefs.”

Furthermore, “[a]rrangements were being made to provide the Midshipmen with a designated place to assemble as chaplains facilitate for the beliefs of all service members,” per the Navy instructions, Garas said. However, the group would not be able to “engage in partisan political activities.”

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2019 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was one of many organizations that testified Thursday during a hearing on a bill to decriminalize prostitution in the District of Columbia.

The D.C. Council is currently considering B23-0318. Should the bill pass, Washington, D.C. would become the second place in the country to decriminalize prostitution. The practice is currently legal in parts of Nevada.

The bill was sponsored by Council members David Grosso (I-At Large), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1).

“Because we believe that each of us possesses inherent dignity and is entitled to respect as a person created in the image of God, it is also part of the mission of the archdiocese and the Catholic Church to defend the dignity of the human person against all forms of exploitation,” Mary Forr, Director of Life Issues for the archdiocese, said during the hearing.

“This includes prostitution, which reduces the person to an article of commerce and a mere possession to be bought, used, and discarded without regard for any physical and psychological trauma to the person in the process,” she added.

She outlined the various programs the archdiocese offers to anyone who has been victimized by traffickers, which include counseling, medical and dental care, and job training.

“We provide hope to those struggling on the margins of society and strive to make a positive difference in people’s lives,” she said.

“The archdiocese will always strive to be a source of support for anyone in need; however, full decriminalization of the sex trade will exacerbate the struggles many residents of the District already face,” said Forr.

The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 (B23-0318) - also known as the Reducing Criminalization of Commercial Sex Amendment Act of 2019 - is modeled after similar legislation in New Zealand.

Unlike the “Nordic Model,” which decriminalizes the act of a person selling themselves but instead heavily penalizes the act of buying the services of a sex worker, the DC proposal would also decriminalize brothels, pimping, and buying sex.

Sex trafficking, or the act of forcing someone into prostitution against their will, would still remain illegal, although advocates against the bill warned repeatedly that passage of B23-0318 would encourage the sex trade and increase prostitution. Child prostitution would also remain illegal under the proposed legislation.

Supporters of the bill argued that adults have a right to engage in consensual sex work.

Laws criminalizing prostitution “impede sex workers’ ability to negotiate safer sex practices, screen clients, report incidents of violence, and access basic needs like housing and health services,” the ACLU of DC said in a statement.

“Criminalization has placed vulnerable D.C. residents at greater risk of violence, police harassment, and exposure to exploitation. It has led to a cycle of violence, poverty, and incarceration that only creates additional barriers to more traditional employment for those engaging in survival sex work.”

Tamika Spellman, a biological male who identifies as transgender, testified in favor of the bill. Spellman has worked as a prostitute for some four decades - since age 14.

Spellman, who was one of the bill architects, according to the New York Times, argued that the bill is a matter of empowerment and safety for sex workers, particularly racial minorities and members of the LGBT community.

Opponents of the bill include D.C. government officials. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has led the District of Columbia since 2015, is vehemently against the bill. She says it would make it harder for the city to successfully target sex traffickers and would not make the sex trade any safer for those who engage in it.

“The mayor’s position is rooted in the need to maintain a safety net to identify and assist victims of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, and her belief that decriminalization will lead to an increase in sex trafficking,” Michelle Garcia, director of the city’s Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants said in the hearing.

Garcia said there are steps that should be taken to improve the lives of sex workers, but that this bill is not the correct approach. Mayor Bowser has long been concerned about the lives of sex workers in the city, said Garcia. The city has had a working group since April 2019 that is aimed at creating a program to divert sex workers away from the criminal justice system and into alternative assistance programs, she explained, and Bowser was given their proposals and recommendations for review earlier this week.

The D.C. Attorney General’s office also raised concerns about the bill, and how it could put children at increased risk from sex trafficking. The bill repeals part of the “safe harbor law” that requires children be referred to services if they are found to be victims of trafficking, and it also “negatively impacts” the use of nuisance laws that are used to target traffickers, said Erin Cullen, deputy attorney general for the Family Services Division at the D.C. Attorney General’s office.

Opponents of the bill also claimed that should prostitution be decriminalized, there will be an increased demand for prostitution, which could potentially turn the nation’s capital into a destination for sex tourism. There were repeated claims that this increased demand for commercial sex would naturally result in an increased number of people who are trafficked into sex work.

The hearing lasted approximately 17 hours. Public comments can be submitted until November 1.

Austin, Texas, Oct 17, 2019 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- When Pamela Whitehead takes a call for LoveLine, a new pregnancy helpline, she listens.

“Too often we think we know what a woman needs and we don't really listen to what she says to us,” Whitehead told CNA, “and I think if we listen long enough, we really hear her need.”

In one recent call to the helpline, Whitehead said she listened to a woman who, at first, thought her biggest need was rent money.

The young woman from Arizona had three children with her boyfriend and had just found out she was pregnant with their fourth. Facing extreme pressure from her boyfriend and family to abort, the woman was sure she would be kicked out of her house for refusing the abortion, and said she needed rent money to prevent her from being homeless.

“So I simply asked her the question, do you want to have an abortion? And she said no,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead said she reassured the woman that no one could force her to have an abortion. She suggested to the woman on the phone that she should first try humanizing the baby to her family - telling her mom how much she would love another grandbaby, and telling her boyfriend how much better their lives would be for having another child.

“And you know what she did? She went back and she stood up for herself and she spoke to her family and they actually...turned around and she ended up not having an abortion,” Whitehead said.

“So while what she thought she needed was some material resources, what she actually needed was empowerment and confidence, and that's what we were able to provide for her.”

That story is just one of many hopeful stories that have come from the newly-released LoveLine, Whitehead said, which is a pro-life helpline, founded by former abortion clinic worker Abby Johnson, who is now a pro-life advocate. The helpline connects pregnant or post-abortive women in need to the proper resources. Sometimes that means public assistance or private donations or simply a community of like-minded pro-life people. Often, it is some combination of all three.

LoveLine is a new project under the larger umbrella organization of ProLove Ministries, which houses multiple pro-life projects founded by Johnson. The organization was a spin-off of And Then There Were None, a support organization for abortion clinic workers who are leaving the abortion industry.

Through LoveLine, women in need can text, chat or call the helpline and talk to someone about what they’re going through and the resources that they need. The project hopes to respond to a “gap in services.”

“There's a population of women who are in need who aren't being served,” Whitehead explained.

Usually, she said, it’s because the resources that women in crisis pregnancies need are either unavailable, hidden, or delayed. Public assistance is often delivered on a first-come first-served basis, Whitehead noted, and by the time a woman connects to those services, there can be a long line ahead of her before she actually gets the help that she needs.

“For instance, if all of a sudden (a woman’s) partner leaves her, whether it's her spouse or her boyfriend, and she's accustomed to having a two-income household...that puts her in a major situation,” Whitehead said.

“While her pregnancy wasn't a so-called crisis, all of a sudden the pregnancy becomes a precipitating factor for her because it's just one more thing. And so she's looking at her situation and she's considering all of her options, and one of those oftentimes is abortion because it's like, well, he's left me, now what?”

LoveLine wants to be there to fill in those gaps, Whitehead said. Some other examples of assistance that the group has provided so far to women in need include baby registries, diapers and food assistance, referrals to pro-life doctors, rent assistance through private donations, and referrals to vetted, untapped public assistance.

Any public assistance or service that LoveLine refers to is first vetted by staff or volunteers to make sure that it can actually provide what the woman needs in a timely manner.

“If we are going to send her to an organization or to an individual or to a social service resource, I'm going to call that resource in advance...and make sure this woman's going to hear ‘yes.’ Because it's overwhelming when the pressures of life are on top of you and you're trying to just make it through and you've got 10 decisions you've got to deal with,” Whitehead said.

“We want to give her a yes,” she added. “So whatever that takes, we want her to say yes and feel empowered, so that means we have to vet resources.”

“So we connect, we care, we make a commitment and we offer community.”

The community aspect of LoveLine’s promise often comes in the form of volunteers spread throughout the country who offer to help with various needs of the project, Whitehead said. When baby registries are set up for women in need, for example, everything is sent to a volunteer’s house, where the goods are unpacked, sorted and personally delivered, so that the woman is not overwhelmed with receiving dozens of packages at her house. They have also helped connect women with pro-life moms’ groups in their own areas. Whitehead said she was personally delivering a highchair and some maternity clothes to a woman in her area this week.

For Whitehead, working in the pro-life movement is personal. In 2001, she had an abortion that perforated her uterus and sent her to the emergency room. For years afterward, she though the trauma she was experiencing was “what she deserved,” she said.

At the time, Whitehead had been addicted to drugs and alcohol and was living in poverty. She said the advice she received at the time ignored her needs, and was instead focused on concerns that she would not be able to care for the child.

“They all considered the child and thought, ‘There's no way you can bring this child into the world because you can't take care of it, and I'm not willing to help you,’ basically. No one tried to help me with the drug addiction or help me with the alcoholism or help me with my poverty,” Whitehead noted.

“So when I see these situations, I see the woman. Not that we don't care about the unborn, of course we do, and that's the goal. But if we don't see the woman, if we don't see her and her dignity and her worth and her value, then we're missing. We're missing it,” she said. The tagline for LoveLine is “When you love first, life follows.”

For the pro-life movement, Whitehead said, LoveLine offers people a chance to do something concrete for the women and babies in need.

“So many people love to give to tangible, practical needs. They love to buy a box of diapers and know that it's going to this person, you know? And that means so much to people,” Whitehead said.

Typically, she explained, the word gets about the womens’ needs on social media, either through Abby Johnson’s Facebook page or through ProLove Ministries’ Facebook page.

“What we've seen is every time we put out a need, the pro-life movement just moves on it. I mean, within hours a whole registry is filled. They just can't wait. The love is just exploding,” she said.

The LoveLine website offers a phone number that women in need can call or text, or an online chat. Volunteers can also offer their assistance in their area via the LoveLine website under the “Get Involved” tab.