A one tonne, seven foot bronze statue of Baphomet - a goat-headed winged deity - is displayed by the Satanic Temple in Salem, Massachusetts
A one tonne, seven foot bronze statue of Baphomet - a goat-headed winged deity - is displayed by the Satanic Temple in Salem, Massachusetts
Ted Siefer/Reuters

The Satanic Temple has been officially recognised as a religion by the US government after the Internal Revenue Service gave it the same tax-empt status as a church.

The organisation had previously resisted the formalising of its status but was persuaded to change its mind by Donald Trump signing an executive order "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty" in May 2017, electing to put itself on the same political footing as other religious orders.

Co-founder Lucien Greaves told Patheos at the time:

As 'the religious' are increasingly gaining ground as a privileged class, we must ensure that this privilege is available to all, and that superstition doesn’t gain exclusive rights over non-theistic religions or non-belief.

The Satanic Temple was founded by Greaves and Malcolm Jarry in 2013 out of an old funeral home in Salem, Massachusetts, intending the new faith as a rebuke to the Christian conservativism embodied by George W Bush in the first decade of the 21st century.

Contrary to popular misconception, its followers do not worship Lucifer but have instead adopted the figure, as portrayed in Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) and elsewhere, as an all-purpose symbol of rebellion to reject the servitude conventional faiths demand of their adherents.

Instead, the Satanic Temple is non-theistic and devoted to "personal sovereignty and independence and freedom of will", according to Greaves, standing for social justice, individual empowerment and the separation of church and state.

Greaves and Jarry define the institution's purpose accordingly:

The mission of The Satanic Temple is 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 guided by the individual will.

The temple has become known for its social activism and satirical online presence, much of which is directed at the alt-right.

The group's initial announcement of the news on Twitter saw it quickly accused of hypocrisy by its equally sardonic rival, the Church of Satan, although the rejection of tax emption quoted predates Trump's 2017 order and Greaves and Jarry's about-turn.

The IRS designation comes as new light is thrown on the Satanic Temple with the imminent release of Hail Satan? a new documentary about the group and its origins.

But the temple's influence was continuing to grow even without that assistance: it has an estimated 20 chapters across the US and branches in Australia, Canada, Germany and the UK.

Greaves also attributes its rapid expansion to the current occupant of the White House:

Our expansive membership numbers are a response to the Trump administration and [Mike] Pence being vice president. People are horrified.

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