Reflections on Justice and Religious Liberty

June 2, 2023

As I walked to the steps of the Supreme Court building last December, I noticed something I had not seen before. As I approached from the back of the building, which mirrors the front, what caught my eye was the phrase etched atop the columns in the place where the famous “Equal Justice Under Law” is placed on the front of the building: “Justice, The Guardian Of Liberty.” As I walked through the frigid December air, with only my sports coat for warmth, I reflected on the sight. Justice is derived from the Latin Ius, which is classically defined as “the perpetual and constant will to render to each one his right.” Ius is a concept based on objective truth and rendering to others their due according to that truth. Ius, and therefore Justice, is the great limiting principle of liberty, thus guarding against the vast excesses of radical individualistic nihilism. This was the thought which began a very eventful hour and a half.

The reason I was going to the Supreme Court in the first place was for a rally in support of Lorie Smith, defendant in the case 303 Creative v Elenis. Smith, a Christian woman based in Colorado, was sued for declining to design a wedding website for a same-sex couple, as it would have conflicted with her religious beliefs. She and her lawyers contend that the government forcing her to design a website celebrating a union she does not agree with would constitute compelled speech, and would thus violate the First Amendment on the grounds of both free speech and free exercise of religion. Though I don’t usually engage in protests, through my work with RFI I attended the rally consisting of about 75 people, most of whom were college students.

And, as with any political rally, there were of course counter-protestors who brought loudspeakers and shouted their talking points. While the Smith supporters talked about the importance of free speech and religious liberty, the opponents claimed we were bigots who were trying to impose theocracy. 

What I found especially curious, however, was how the counter protestors labeled themselves. Except for a handful of activists, the dozen or so counter-protestors were self-proclaimed Luciferians, who belong to a movement of mostly atheists who use satanic imagery to promote a particular moral philosophy. These young people wore costumes made of black capes, leather jackets, and other “satanic” imagery. There even was a man wearing a batman mask tied around his head with a string. If their aim was to scare us, they failed spectacularly; but they did give me a lot to think about. 

As I stood outside the rally with Ismail Royer, RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Director, we couldn’t help but reflect on the Luciferians’ “Seven Tenets of Luciferianism.” These tenets, seemingly a parody of the Ten Commandments, commend the struggle for justice and equality while promoting vague notions of equity, empathy, and respect for science. However, it struck me that underlying them was a fundamental love of self. Consider tenet number four: “IV. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.”

In the Ten Commandments, love of neighbor flows from love of God. Hence, the first three commandments concern what is proper toward God. In the satanic tenets, on the other hand, the deity from whom love of neighbor stems is the self, and one’s own self-interest. Satanism is neatly summed up in occultist Alesiter Crowley’s famous line, “Do what Thou wilt, shall be the whole of the law.” But if the self, or one’s own will, is the source of morality, then there is no objective morality – only a subjective one. We are supposedly “beyond” good and evil, as a Nietzschean Ubermensch; and inevitably, some people replace morality with a quest for raw power. 

This is so often how our politics operates today, expressed perfectly in the event itself. This was not a debate or real conversation about ideas and morality, partially because people like the protestors against Lorie Smith seem uninterested in ever having that discussion. Dealing with political disagreement in this way was not the vision of our Founders. Rather, they believed a republic could function only wherein reason guides the governance of the nation. This is why they designed a form of government with  legislatures, courts, and executives who can clearly reason together. But in the age of mass media, politics has sadly descended into a satanic model of power above all else. 

How do we foster a culture of charity and respect for people with whom we disagree? The back of the court building might provide the answer: authentic justice, rooted in truth and natural law. Our leaders must respect and empower freedom of religion and freedom of speech, while at the same time recognizing truths about the human person, such as the inviolable right to life from conception to natural death. A robust regime of religious freedom will allow this by taking seriously the idea that there may be a higher law – an eternal or natural law – which grounds and orders our politics. Martin Luther King Jr. once quoted St. Augustine, saying, “An unjust law is no law at all.” This idea, central to the classical legal tradition, states that the eternal law – which is knowable by reason – must be the grounding of our politics. By taking this idea seriously both in law and in culture, our national discourse can be based on something much deeper than power: it can be based on truth. 

Vincent Schiffiano was an intern and research assistant at RFI in the fall of 2022 and spring of 2023. He graduated from Benedictine College with degrees in Philosophy and Political Science, and earned a Masters of Arts in Human Rights at The Catholic University of America’s Institute for Human Ecology. Schiffiano will begin law school at the University of Kansas this fall, and hopes to enter the field of constitutional law.