Joining this year’s nativity scene and Hanukkah menorah is a black monument to knowledge: Snaketivity, a four-and-a-half-foot-tall sculpture of a woman’s arm with a snake coiled around it, offering up an apple to passersby. A plaque below reads “Knowledge is the Greatest Gift.”
The Satanic Temple isn’t a religious organization and doesn’t believe in the existence of Satan as a real being (and went so far as to sue Netflix over the use of Baphomet statue in the Sabrina reboot for implying it possessed magical powers). Instead, the Temple is trying to throw off what it calls “religious tyranny” by countering traditional religious iconography in public spaces and politics.
Lex Manticore, leader of the Temple’s Chicago chapter, told the State Journal Register that pursuing knowledge was “the greatest individual pursuit of bettering yourself, and we believe that you should basically act with the best scientific understanding of the world when you make decisions.”
A sign hung in the rotunda explains that the state didn’t have much of a choice in allowing the statue.
“The State of Illinois is required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to allow temporary, public displays in the state capitol so long as these displays are not paid for by taxpayer dollars. Because the first floor of the Capitol Rotunda is a public place, state officials cannot legally censor the content of speech or displays. The United States Supreme Court has held that public officials may legally impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions regarding displays and speeches, but no regulation can be based on the content of the speech.”
This isn’t the first time that the Satanic Temple has attempted to co-opt religious iconography to prove a point about the prevalence of religious symbols in public life. Last December, the group was rebuffed in its attempts to install a non-denominational, but still pretty Satanic looking, memorial to fallen veterans in Belle Plaine, Minnesota. The Satanic Temple later sued to cover the cost of the artwork, claiming its First Amendment rights were being violated.