Blasphemy in Oklahoma City

by Phyllis Zagano

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The city manager of Oklahoma City has approved a Sept. 21 "black mass" in its Civic Center Music Hall. Maybe the heat's got him.

The facts: a Satanist group called Dakhma of Angra Mainyu plunked down $420 to rent the 92-seat CitySpace Theatre for a "black mass." The Catholic archbishop complained. The city manager cited the First Amendment. The archbishop has asked for prayers. The rest of city government is not talking.

The force behind the event, 35-year-old Adam Brian Daniels, is well-known to the Civic Center folks. He's been involved in two of the three previous Satanist events there. Last year, nobody came.

Daniels is also a lifetime member of the Oklahoma Sex Offender Registry.

Yet Oklahoma City authorities defend his right to perform a vile attack on what Christians hold sacred. The complete details are too disgusting to repeat, but the event includes stomping on a consecrated host.

The action usually takes place between the legs of a naked woman lying on a table with her feet facing east. The actual ritual calls for all manner of strangeness there, but the Satanists say they will not break the law, and the Civic Center promises police attendance. So probably there will be no use of urine, excrement or semen. No nudity or lewdness, either. But they will desecrate the host.

No matter. The city manager has a bunch of old Supreme Court cases in his briefcase, all about the freedom of religion and free speech.

The law has always seemed to be rooted in common sense, but this is off the rails. Who can think Satanism is a religion? Who thinks a "black mass" is political speech? Bottom line: The city manager thinks the First Amendment protects blasphemous hate speech. Don't they know about the 14th Amendment out there in Oklahoma?

I always thought your First Amendment rights ended at the tip of my nose: You cannot punch me any more than you can yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater or defame me. No government or government entity can deny my rights. The 14th Amendment makes that quite clear: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States ... nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Of course, you can find a lawyer to argue just about anything. Young municipal lawyers riding the crest of Instagram and Twitter obviously see things differently from folks who argue for civility over a real or imagined freedom-to-offend. Rather than challenge the thin theory of anything goes, the legal beagles fall all over each other defending the right to offend.

What is going on in Oklahoma City? Do they not have the gumption to cancel the contract? They say they do not want to risk an expensive lawsuit, so they spend attorney time defending the Satanists' rights against those of the rest of the community.

So Oklahoma City is enforcing its interpretation of law so that Catholics -- their beliefs, practices, and their very selves -- are not protected. Why don't Catholics get "equal protection of the laws"?

Of course, you can argue that both ways, but the bottom line is that my rights not to be offended or harmed can, or at least should, overtake your rights to offend or harm me. That does not mean discussing Obamacare or even burning the flag. That means public desecration of the Eucharist. That means blasphemy.

You think claiming blasphemy is old-fashioned? Yes, it is. And the word does not seem to appear in any of the "black mass" discussion, pro or con. But the "black mass" organizers claim someone mailed them a consecrated host and that they intend to stomp on it. That is blasphemy and harassment and the vandalism of religious property.

Here's a news flash: Oklahoma has blasphemy laws. Blasphemy is a misdemeanor. The Oklahoma Statutes state: "Blasphemy consists in wantonly uttering or publishing words, casting contumelious reproach or profane ridicule upon God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the Holy Scriptures or the Christian or any other religion."

Also, the Oklahoma City Municipal Code protects against harassment, intimidation, or degradation because of any individual's religion, and also against vandalism of any religious property.

That sounds pretty 14th Amendment to me. Maybe someone should tell the city manager?

It is a genuine struggle. Who wins?

Does the city of Oklahoma City defend the law by providing public facilities to deride and offend Christians? Or do the Satanists win the day by creating a national hate speech event?

Either way, civility and common sense lose.

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University and winner of the 2014 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice. She will speak Sept. 18 at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill., and Nov. 9 at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. Her newest books are Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest: A Crosscultural Anthology and Ordination of Women to the Diaconate in the Eastern Churches.]

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