Gangs vs. religion
Several judges noted that, based on the principle that religion is a choice reflecting a person’s values and principles, lawyers can strike prospective jurors from the panel because of their beliefs.
Likewise, prosecutors may argue that defendants who choose to join a violent gang are dangerous — and affiliating with the Church of Satan is no different, Stroud argued. “This was more about his choice of who to affiliate with as opposed to, you know, the moral, reprehensible, abstract beliefs that he might have,” she said.
Morales cautioned against equating religions with gangs.
“People join gangs with the knowledge that gangs commit crimes,” he said. “You don’t join a religion with the understanding or belief, typically at least, that the religion commits crimes. You join a religion for philosophical things, for the way they think.”
According to religion experts, Satanism is practiced by a small group that ranges from deranged loners — who blame or claim satanic influence for their crimes — to members of organized churches or groups. Belief systems vary, even among organized practitioners, but most self-described Satanists tend to be humanists who view Satan as a natural or magical force, while others see Satan as a deity in opposition to the Christian God, experts say.
Presiding Judge Sharon Keller noted that the writings of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey seem to espouse human sacrifice or murder, such as this advice from the “Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth”: “If someone bothers you, ask him to stop. If he does not stop, destroy him.”
“What is unreasonable about assuming someone joins a religious organization because he holds beliefs in common with that religion?” Keller asked.
Morales raised two points. First, he said, the prosecution expert, a community college criminologist, incorrectly applied a literal interpretation to LaVey’s writings. The defense expert, the founding director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, testified that Church of Satan members engage in symbolic rituals, while actual violence and sacrifice of people or animals is prohibited, Morales said.
Second, prosecutors never proved, or even tried to prove, that Davis believed in human sacrifice or any unsavory practices ascribed to Satanism, he said.
Because most people pick and choose which religious tenets to follow, prosecutors should have to prove which beliefs a defendant adheres to before introducing religion into the courtroom, Morales said.
“If his religious preference was Satanism and he did believe in human sacrifice, then could that be used against him?” Keller asked.
“Then you would have a different situation,” he said.
The case is AP-74,393.