Satanists say 'Abortions save lives!' on billboard outside Houston -- Article and the billboard photo --

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Feb 13, 2021

Satanists say 'Abortions save lives!' on billboard outside Houston

Robert Downen, Staff writer

Dec. 17, 2020Updated: Dec. 17, 2020 10:04 p.m.

A billboard along the US69 reads

A billboard along the US69 reads "Abortions save lives!" Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 in Rosenberg. The billboard, erected by the Satanic Temple in Houston, is one of three that the group has put up near crisis pregnancy centers in three major American cities. The billboards, which went up Dec. 14, are part of the advocacy group's protest of exemptions granted to other religions.

Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer
The Satanic Temple in Houston says it has placed three billboards in three cities, like this one Thursday in Rosenberg.

A billboard along the US69 reads

The Satanic Temple is raising awareness of its abortion rituals through a new billboard in Rosenberg, one of a handful that the group has paid for outside of crisis pregnancy centers in Texas and Florida.

“Abortions save lives!” reads the new signage, which went up along U.S. 69 in Rosenberg on Monday. “Our religious abortion ritual averts many state restrictions.”

The group said the campaign is intended to educate local satanists about their right to be exempted from mandatory waiting periods, counseling or other “unscientific regulations” that violate their beliefs in “bodily autonomy and scientifically-reasoned personal choice.”

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Similar billboards were erected in Dallas and Miami after a legal dispute with the group that owns the signs and objected to hosting the temple’s message. One reads: “Pregnancy complications are the sixth most common cause of death among women ages 20 to 34. Abortions save lives!”

“We want our members to know that performing our religious abortion ritual means they do not have to fulfill regulations that require them to violate their religious beliefs when they have decided to terminate their pregnancy,” said Sydney Goodwin, spokesperson for the temple’s religious reproductive rights campaigns.

The Salem, Mass.-based group has frequently challenged laws it says are unconstitutional and erode church-state separations by favoring one religious group over another.

Its previous campaigns include “After-School Satan” clubs — a response to evangelical after-school programs allowed in some states — and attempts to have bronze statues of the goat-headed occult figure Baphomet erected on government properties that display explicitly Christian things such as the Ten Commandments.

Richard Foltin, a religious freedom scholar at the Washington, D.C.-based Freedom Institute, said any challenge to a state’s religious freedom laws would require courts to consider multiple questions. Among them: Whether the challenge is based on a sincerely held religious belief that is being substantially burdened by the government; whether the government has a compelling interest in restricting that belief; and whether that compelling interest could be met through less restrictive means.

The U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on similar religious matters, most notably in a 1990 case in which members of the Native American Church challenged Oregon’s refusal to give them unemployment benefits after they were fired for violating the state’s prohibition on peyote use.

In that case, five justices voted to set aside earlier rulings that laws restricting religious practice must satisfy a compelling interest and be “narrowly tailored” to meet the government’s interest. They held, instead, that there was for the most part no constitutional entitlement to a religious exemption so long as the law serves a reasonable purpose.

That decision, Foltin said, gave the government more “leeway” on religious matters and prompted Congress, as well as some states, to pass many of the religious freedom laws that are still on the books today.

Goodwin, of the Satanic Temple, said that her group would “intercede legally” if a satanist was not permitted an exemption under their state’s religious freedom laws, but that their “primary focus” is on educating believers about their rights to medical procedures that don’t jeopardize their belief in “bodily autonomy and scientifically reasoned personal choice.”

In October, the group published a state-by-state guide on “informed consent” statutes for abortion. And earlier this year, the Satanic Temple also outlined how to perform its abortion rituals, which include looking “at your reflection to be reminded of your personhood and your responsibility to yourself” before and after procedures.

The ritual also calls for a recitation of the Satanic Temple’s third and fifth tenets that call for bodily autonomy and beliefs that “conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world.”

The group opted to rent billboards near crisis pregnancy centers because many of them, Goodwin said, are misleading about the services they offer and focus on “coercing” people not to have abortions.

The nearest such center in Rosenberg could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Goodwin said it was unknown how many satanists live in the region. She noted that there is a Houston chapter of the Satanic Temple, but that “you don’t have to be a member to be a satanist.”

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