Gangs vs. re­li­gion

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

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.

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