The devil, you say? Satanists say they're peaceful sect

DETROIT — A new religious group aims to bring the devil to Detroit.

The Satanic Temple on Saturday marked the launch of its first chapter outside New York. But leaders say they don't worship Satan. They don't practice cannibalism, or sacrifice people or animals.

"It's peaceful," said Jex Blackmore, 32, local leader and part of the temple's executive ministry. "The idea of sacrifice specifically is to appease some demon or some god, and that's a supernatural belief that we don't subscribe to."

The group's tenets include free will, compassion toward all creatures, respect of others' freedom — including freedom to offend — and beliefs supported by scientific understanding: "We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs," according to the Satanic Temple's website.

Based on Western civilization's most notorious evil character, the sect is intrinsically controversial. The Satanic Temple was started about two years ago and has drawn national attention for First Amendment-related demonstrations in communities as far-flung as Florida and Massachusetts.

In Oklahoma, the group aims to erect a bronze statue of Baphomet, a bearded, goat-headed deity posing with two children, in response to Christians posting the Ten Commandments at the state's capitol. Blackmore said that if the Christians removed their monument, the push to install Baphomet would end.

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., said Friday that the Satanists reflect the increasing diversity in America, a country founded on religious freedom, as protestant Christianity's influence has lessened.

"Groups that feel that the government often privileges the majority faith are trying to find new ways to correct that, and to address that," he said, adding that the Ten Commandments illustrate Christians' effort to preserve their culture. "A lot of the culture war fights can be traced back to the notion of 'losing our country.' "

Blackmore, who was raised Lutheran in metro Detroit, said the religion embraces individuality and equality. Wearing all black with an upside-down cross necklace, she described the movement as a coming together of atheists and outsiders.

"We believe in a metaphorical, literary construct of Satan," she said. "He's a symbol for rebellion, a symbol of human nature, the thirst for knowledge."

The Rev. Chris Yaw of St. David's Episcopal Church in Southfield said Satanists worshiping Satan actually is quite rare; instead, it tends to be a "back-to-nature kind of thing."

He said the Bible is "really sketchy on who this person Satan is," and that the red pitchforks, horns and goat heads were all added long after the Christian Bible was completed. Visit the Satanic Temple's website,, and similar imagery abounds.

"You wonder who is drawn to celebrate evil," Yaw said. "We pledge not to honor those things that are working against the good."

He'd happily go out to lunch with the Satanists to learn why they're drawn to it as he, too, is on a "spiritual journey," Yaw said.

"The challenge of Christianity, that has been dominant religion in this country, is to be accepting and loving of all people, and whatever religion they want to practice," Yaw said. "Jesus didn't give me the right to judge other people."

Blackmore said the temple's plans for Michigan include offering same-sex wedding ceremonies and advocating for women's rights — in particular, opposing on religious grounds the informed consent laws requiring that women receiving abortions be given certain information. She also is working on plans to volunteer at local animal shelters and provide other needed community service in Detroit.

Michigan's law against same-sex marriage was struck down earlier this year then appealed in federal court, with the state not allowing for any such marriages in the meantime. Blackmore said she hopes the Satanic Temple can use a same-sex marriage to challenge the law on grounds of religious freedom.

There are about 20 local members, and she said people who are interested in learning more are encouraged to visit the group's Facebook page. Detroit is the first of 15 chapters to be announced in the coming weeks.