In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that student-led prayer at public-school sporting events needed to stop. For me, an Asheville teen who had eschewed Christianity in the fourth grade, that decision was a breath of fresh air and a stand against the blatant disregard of the separation of church and state that I saw on a regular basis.
But the winds of change didn’t quite make it down to the South. Prayers continued, my math teacher railed about the sins of being gay, and “We Still Pray” bumper stickers popped up on cars all over town.
I wish the Satanic Temple had been around then. With that savvy band of merry pranksters demanding equal representation for all religions, those invasive prayers might have ended. That’s the effect the Temple has in the documentary Hail Satan?, which chronicles the group’s rise and entry into the political sphere.
You may be familiar with the temple’s attempts to erect Baphomet statues at several state capitol buildings in response to legislators pushing to install stone tablets featuring the Ten Commandments. Penny Lane’s film unpacks the fascinating legal, personal and, yes, religious — untraditional as the temple is in that regard — stories behind the debate, focusing on the witty and extremely likable members of the temple. The standout is figurehead and founder Lucien Greaves, who traces the history of Satanism (which is not about worshipping the devil, but rather celebrating individualism and progressive thought) and its stakes in today’s political landscape as it faces down “Christian privilege.”
The story is compelling, and the film itself is fun and inquisitive, interweaving footage from Fox News, government hearings and the Westboro Baptist Church with biblical cartoons. Also in the mix are clips from The Ten Commandments, whose director Cecil B. DeMille drummed up a publicity stunt for the film that inspired many of those Ten Commandments statues all over the U.S.
Through it all, Greaves and his cohorts retain their poise in the face of some serious bigotry. The world right now needs more people like them. And, frankly, that Baphomet statue would look great if they ever manage to put it up.
Now playing at Grail Moviehouse