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Hell's bells: Satanists sue city over council's refusal to let them give an invocation at one of its meetings

A Boston city council already embroiled in controversy over how many mayoral elections to hold this year - in addition to dealing with the pandemic, racial inequities and police reform - now has to battle Satan, in the form of a lawsuit filed by the Satanic Temple of Salem over its refusal to let any Satanists give one of the invocations that start Wednesday council meetings.

In a lawsuit filed in US District Court in Boston today, the Satanists seek to have the current council invocation policy declared unconstitutional because it discriminates in favor of Abrahamic religions. The complaint - which lists the temple's core tenets - also asks a judge to order the council to let a Satanist get on the schedule to open a meeting so they can give the devil his due.

City councilors take turns inviting members of the clergy to provide a benediction to start their Wednesday meetings - and ask visitors to stand (City Clerk Maureen Feeney stands in when a clergy person can't be found). Over the years, councilors have heard from any number of priests, ministers, nuns, rabbis and imams, but mostly priests and ministers. In 2015, even the Hare Krishnas got to open a council meeting, invited by at-large Councilor Michelle Wu.

But when the Satanic Temple, which claims 2,449 Boston-area members, asked then Council President Wu for an invitation to speak of the devil in 2016, she demurred, saying the choice of benediction givers is made by individual councilors and the temple should ask one of them to extend an invite - which none did.

Similar requests to the council in 2017 and 2018, when Councilor Andrea Campbell was council president, were also rebuffed.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination took no action in 2019 on a Satanic Temple complaint about the practice, in part because it's not set up to handle constitutional issues.

And so the Satanic Temple went to court, offering a hand basket of reasons why the council policy not only gets their goat, but sins against the First Amendment bans on favoring a particular religion and suppressing speech and the Fourteenth Amendment ban on unequal treatment of citizens.

No other religious group has requested an opportunity to bless the Council’s meeting, only to be denied. TST is sole group to have ever been excluded.

Councilors' - and their constituents' - distaste for the Satanic message should not override the Constitution, the temple says:

The Court should find Boston's legislative prayer scheme unconstitutional as an affront to the Establishment Clause because the City's prayer selection practice lacks neutrality enforcing safeguards, lacks a mechanism to provide an equal prayer opportunity to all groups who want to participate, and was exploited to exclude TST from participation. ...

TST’s intention to bless the Council's meetings with a Satanic prayer was an expression of religious significance.

The City withheld that prayer opportunity because it finds TST to be an "undesirable" religion and wanted to avoid the public outcry which would inevitably ensue from granting TST equal participation rights to Christians.

The complaint says volunteers watched recordings of 233 invocations given between 2011 and 2017, and found further alleged evidence of the council's bias against non-Abrahamic religions:

Nonbelievers of various stripes consist of 33% of the Boston population. Yet, of 233 reviewed instances of prayers between 2011 and 2017, precisely one blessing–less than 0.5%–was nonreligious. That was offered by Sister Margaret Leonard of Project Hope (a laudable international health care organization, but not a religious congregation) on October 22, 2014.

Similarly, Hindus consist of 1% of the Boston population, yet were disproportionately underrepresented at one instance of 233 reviewed prayers,less than half their proportionate share.

Buddhists, also with 1% of the Boston population, received no representation at all.

Wiccans, other Pagans, and Native Americans, all, have adherents in Boston yet they, too, got no invite.

The complaint continues that the council couldn't even stay consistent with its own supposed guidelines to only offer prayer opportunities to Boston residents. At least six clergy members from outside the city opened council meetings with prayers in 2018 and 2019, including a Congregational minister from Marblehead, brought into the council chambers by Councilor Matt O'Malley (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury).

In response to the MCAD investigator's further inquiry, the City explained that Councilor O'Malley had a "personal connection" with the Reverend because the Reverend serves as the Chaplain for a nursing center where the Councilor's mother received care.

That's religious discrimination. The stated practice was that O'Malley "exclusively invited individuals from within their respective districts who are known for their outreach work." Changing that rule to benefit one ("preferred") religious group, but not affording that same benefit to a different ("undesirable") religious group is disparate treatment because of religious beliefs.

However, while Popperson does minister at the Old North Church in Marblehead, she lives in Jamaica Plain. She also works at the nursing home the Satanists referenced - the Sherrill House skilled-nursing facility on South Huntington Avenue in Jamaica Plain.

The complaint appears at least superficially similar to an effort by a West Roxbury man to fly a Christian flag from a flagpole in front of City Hall - an effort that was, once again, struck down by a federal appeals court on Friday.

However, one key difference; In that case, the city had a policy of not allowing explicitly religious flags to fly from the flagpole. Had the city allowed religious flags to fly from the pole, then Hal Shurtleff might have a case, but it didn't and so he doesn't, courts keep ruling. In contrast, most of the people who give council invocations are not only dressed in their religious garb, and, in the case of the Christian ones, at least, they have occasionally referenced Jesus or "Our Father."

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Comments

slippery slope

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let Baphomet have a moment! Christianity would not exist as it does if not for Satan. Vice versa. They depend on each other; they need each other. Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to religious gods what belong to them.

Distasteful to the good pious Christians, especially Catholics? Those that practice bigotry against Gays are no less distasteful, and probably have far stronger reservations in a long Purgatory than Satanists. The prelates of all religions who enabled child sexual molestation are no better and in representation have no business opening City Council meetings.

How many nice sweet Christians in Boston supported the invasion of The United States Capitol but would birth a zillion cows if a group of Satanists were to offer a prayer. From the Salem group's website:

"The Mission Of The Satanic Temple Is To Encourage Benevolence And Empathy, Reject Tyrannical Authority, Advocate Practical Common Sense, Oppose Injustice, And Undertake Noble Pursuits."

Are the Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations in the Boston somehow superior to this mission?

That includes the very wealthy, very well to do, good Catholics at Fidelity and other rich people who are pious in front of the camera but maybe not so nice behind the camera.

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Adam, while you are attempting wordplay in a few instances in your write-up, you've done The Satanic Temple a disservice by claiming that they want to "give the devil his due" or that the Council now has to "battle Satan" or that they wanted an invitation to "speak of the devil".

All cute, but all also suggest that The Satanic Temple is aligned with or even believes in the Satan of the Bible.

From their FAQ ( https://thesatanictemple.com/pages/faq ):

"DO YOU WORSHIP SATAN?

No, nor do we believe in the existence of Satan or the supernatural. The Satanic Temple believes that religion can, and should, be divorced from superstition. As such, we do not promote a belief in a personal Satan. To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions. Satanists should actively work to hone critical thinking and exercise reasonable agnosticism in all things. Our beliefs must be malleable to the best current scientific understandings of the material world — never the reverse.

WHAT DOES SATAN MEAN TO TST?

Satan is a symbol of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty even in the face of insurmountable odds. Satan is an icon for the unbowed will of the unsilenced inquirer – the heretic who questions sacred laws and rejects all tyrannical impositions. Our metaphoric representation is the literary Satan best exemplified by Milton and the Romantic Satanists from Blake to Shelley to Anatole France"

They have developed a very rationally-based belief system and given it a name based on a classicist's icon which works well, given that they are often pointing out the hypocrisies of religion-based policies in a secular government. They are more akin to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster than they are to the Church of Satan, who actually worshipped the Christian Devil. I feel your write-up blurs that distinction.

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Sounds like a bunch of Atheists that want to stir the pot and ruffle some feathers.

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If they stir the pot enough to get the Invocation removed from government meetings, we'll be better for it.

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hadn't thought of that. That's a step in the right direction.

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They can't stop telling us that they're too smart to believe in an invisible man in the sky (and how everyone who does is Stupid). The fact that most of us have figured out that first bit before HS graduation is lost on them. They are that obnoxious 12 year old who wants to show the adult table how smart they are with strict literalism.

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Considering there are still invocations [and various other religious relics], most of you have decidedly NOT figured it out and you need it hammered into you over and over and over.

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any Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christians. A big chunk of American society treats the Bible as literal truth, and I mean that in the traditional sense of literal (as in the opposite of figurative.)

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The War on Christmas?

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This is exactly the tiny, whiney minority that does wage War on Christmas. Complaining loudly about all things to do with organized religion includes Christmas. Which in turn creates fodder for unhinged right wingers to claim that it's a widespread thing among the left. Thank you for bringing this up.

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There are many non-atheists who belong to religions that don't celebrate Christmas, including some Christian denominations (remember, the Puritans really did have a war on Christmas). Asking for people to say Happy Holidays doesn't exclude or make war on Christmas. It simply asks for a greeting that is inclusive instead of exclusive and doesn't assume that everyone is Christian.

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Christmas is a bad example because it's really like four different holidays.

There's Jesus Christmas (which is obviously religious), but then there's also Santa Christmas (for the kids), Black Friday Christmas (for commerce), and "Thanksgiving Part 2" Christmas (at the end of the day). They overlap, but most of it is pretty secular.

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And that states:

TST venerates (but does not worship) the biblical adversary as a promethean icon against tyranny. For TST and its membership, the Satan described in Paradise Lost and like works is a revolutionary antihero who stood up against impossible odds to seek justice and egalitarianism for himself and others.

So they don't believe in the classic Christian depiction of the devil as an underworld despot ruling over the damned (when not coming above ground for a little lovin'), but they hold up some form of Satan as an object of veneration or an ideal to work towards. It's right in their name.

And, yes, the use of "Satan" is an interesting way to point out the hypocrisy of other organized religions on everything from church/state separation to reproductive rights.

But there are plenty of groups that do that without calling themselves Satanists.

Despite the last four years, words still have meaning, and "Satan" comes with certain connotations, allusions, etc., that are familiar to most of us, so let's, um, give the devil his due. And that's why I thought it OK to get into some wordplay.

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TO THE ACCUSER WHO IS THE GOD OF THIS WORLD

Truly, My Satan, thou art but a Dunce,
And dost not know the Garment from the Man.
Every Harlot was a Virgin once,
Nor can’st thou ever change Kate into Nan.

Tho’ thou art Worship’d by the Names Divine
Of Jesus & Jehovah, thou art still
The Son of Man in weary Night’s decline,
The lost Traveller’s Dream under the Hill.

-William Blake, The Gates of Paradise

In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the Devil gets somewhat more favorable treatment, but Blake also has this to say:

The history of this is written in Paradise Lost, & the Governor or Reason is call’d Messiah. And the original Archangel, or possessor of the command of the heavenly host, is call’d the Devil or Satan, and his children are call’d Sin & Death.

But in the Book of Job, Milton’s Messiah is call’d Satan. For this history has been adopted by both parties.

-William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Moral: don't try to recruit a subtle mind to support you in your unsubtle arguments. Blake doesn't belong to you, nor does Milton or Shelley.

The Temple of Satan seem to be a harmless lot who have chosen that name solely to get attention for their mostly admirable but rather vague and unoriginal beliefs. It is perfectly appropriate for them to add their platitudes to those of all the other invocation-givers that have wasted the Council's time in the past.

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And here I though the venn diagram if people who respect his noodlely appendage and and enjoy good puns and wordplay would have had more overlap.

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We all pray, and experience our faith in different ways, so I see no issue with letting them deliver an invocation.

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prays, or experiences faith, at least not as those terms are typically used in the context of these discussions.

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All they have to do is get a Satanist elected to the Boston City Council then have him or her extend them an invitation to give the invocation. Good luck with that by the way.

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The religion of the council members should not dictate the religion of the council invocations since the council proceedings are for the whole of the city, not the benefit of the council.

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All they have to do is get a Satanist elected to the Boston City Council

Admitted satanist.

Fixed that for you.

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As it should be, the old ones are pleased.

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And the accompanying year-round homework, exams, memorization exercises and oral presentations... 7th/8th grade me would've welcomed the presumably simpler study of metaphor.

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They didn’t do their research very well. Sister Margaret Leonard’s Project Hope is not a “laudable international health care organization,” it’s a Boston multi-service agency that specializes in housing support and workforce development, especially for Dorchester and Roxbury residents. Certainly a laudable organization but they should probably get their facts straight.

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Why are invocations even permitted in the first place?
They are a blatant contradiction of separation of church and state.
Kudos to the Satanic Temple for bringing this case forward!

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Shouldn't their fight be with witchcraft city the town of Salem? We have enough issues with suburbanites coming into Boston and causing trouble. Satin has had a very good year he has managed to shut down Jerusalem, Mecca, and the Vatican. People are depressed lonely and relapsing into substance abuse and hate crimes are rising. Finally if witchcraft is an organized religion why is the town of Salem allowed to display its religious symbols on Halloween on public property and Christians aren't allowed to display their religious symbols on public property on Christmas.

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If you think "the town of Salem" is displaying anything like a religious symbol on Halloween, I have a bridge to sell you.

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Satin has had a very good year

I'm more partial to velour myself.

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infidels that must be burned at the steak.

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The Louvin Brothers' little-known concept album about their year working in the NY Garment District.

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This is where we do the "Well-done steak with ketchup" bit, no?

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No prayers by any "religion". Problem solved.

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I may be mistaken, but I think that's their ultimate goal. Which I support. No prayers or religious nonsense in government, please.

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By making a stink over this, they are hoping to have all invocations removed from the proceedings.

the satantic temple is pretty great, across the board. their headquarters in salem is really nice, has great art, and is probably the best thing to see in Salem.

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Let's keep religion out of government proceedings and then the issue goes away. Easy solution.

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although they're not going to break the facade and say that out loud.

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"although they're not going to break the facade and say that out loud."

The entire thing is a type of performance art.

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This isn't similar at all to the Christian flag guy. That guy wanted a right that no one else has been given. The Satanic Temple is suing to be treated as other religions are.

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I've never been to one of their temples, but from what I've heard, they're great people who take enjoyment in tweaking the nose of the Christian establishment -- and pointing out serious issues of First Amendment violation. They're also big on science, truth, and humanism.

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Although I have no particular problem with the Satanic Temple per se, and understand their premise, and even basically agree with it in this instance, the fact that they are headquartered in Salem exposes them as hucksters of the Laurie Cabot ilk to me. Don't tell me they're located in touristy Salem because the rents are cheaper. Check out their website, they're running a Satanist Disneyland over there.

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Check out their website, they're running a Satanist Disneyland over there.

Wait till this guy finds out about the Vatican.

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Hahaha!

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This is a Judeo-Christian town.

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Is under the First Amendment. You might want to Google "Establishment clause."

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I'll take the orgies but not the Satan worship.

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Under the First Amendment, which, amazingly, also protects the rights of others to worship as they see fit (also, I didn't see anything about orgies in their core beliefs, so in addition to reading up on the Establishment Clause, you might also want to read up on them).

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can't anyone here take a joke?

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... according to the article 33% are nonbelievers.

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in christianity, there is satan. so they are actually well within their lane, per your claim.

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How about if we just play this at the start of each meeting?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_A6y58afFY&ab_channel=BlackSabbath-Topic

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And too much time on their hands.

I'd let them say whatever they want if I were in charge, it's silly and meaningless in the scheme of things , 2 minutes and it's over and back to work , as the satanist leave thinking they achieved something.

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“Silly and meaningless” is a great description of religion.

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Silly and meaningless” is a great description of religion

But If it makes them happy, who cares?

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Spending time getting into arguments here -- or on any other news site's comment section -- looks like evidence that we're the ones with too much time on our hands.

The Satanic Temple's lawsuit might have an effect, at least.

I count myself as one of the people with too much time on our hands: it seems like most people during the pandemic have either too much time on our hands, or far too much they need to do and not enough time to do it in.

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An invocation ideally calls us to our better selves in the performance of legislating. The same purpose can be fulfilled with a 5 minute meditation at the beginning of each meeting. Meditation is proven to be an effective way to calm the mind, hopefully allowing for more intelligent, thoughtful discussions and perhaps even kindness toward each other and everyone else.

Religions are as harmful as helpful in organizing society. In legislating what we need are helpful tools, not religious ideologies that talk about who is in and who is out of the cosmic club.

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Why not just have people do a non-religious reflection? There is a ton of evidence that mindfulness helps with focus, problem-solving, getting along with people, etc., which I assume is what they're going for ("bringing us to be our best selves" or whatever it was along those lines).

It seems like it would be a great thing for individual councilors and presenters to meditate in their own personal thought bubbles on their own religious heritage or lack thereof, as well as for them to share brief pearls of wisdom from their tradition when it's relevant and broadly applicable (beliefs about ways your religious or other heritage says to provide for everyone, yes -- scripture about what deity you should follow, no).

It doesn't seem appropriate for clergy people to present a specifically religious invocation at a city meeting.

Why not invite all different folks, some clergy and some not, to present a quick motivational/focusing talk?

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There are many meditation practices, and they are just that: practices. People receive benefit if they do them regularly. If not, they don't, much as you can't play tennis once every five years and be any good at it. Having "a moment of silent meditation" before a council session is less offensive but just as pointless as an invocation to somebody's god.

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If you are interested in what the Satanic Temple is all about, I highly recommend this documentary, Hail Satan?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hail_Satan%3F

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The Satanic Temple are worth learning more about if you're interested in the intersection of gov't and religion, as well as new lenses for humanism.

Despite jokey beginnings, they've accomplished a good deal more than Anton LaVey's theatrical, libertine Church of Satan, the Boogeyman du jour of the Satanic Panic era. I'd put TST closer to the historic practice of Luciferianism; which is also an interesting set of ideas to read up on.

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If you're not going to allow every religion, don't allow any. Supposed to be keeping church and state separate anyway.

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Because it's better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven't done.

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I don't care if every last religion in the city gets a chance. Prayer has no place in a public meeting.

Some religions don't allow being present during other religions' prayers. Similar to how city council members might be offended by a Satanist invocation, some people are offended by the mostly Christian invocations that happen every week. How are people who follow these rules supposed to attend a council meeting?

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This is a job for Julia Meija, All Means All!

Andrea Campbell? lol! there's an empty box looking in a mirror.She will not be held accounyptable.

I I not like provocateurs who's soul mission is to be provacative, but thank TST for calling the shallow self serving poverty pumping council. Our on their B.S. They are too rigid and lack the creativity to see and respond to the request for the Art it is.

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If Universal Hub had an investigative reporter branch like some of the local TV stations they might find looking into these Salem Satanists might be interesting.

They have a long list of litigations on the books all over and some of it has been profitable for those bringing the suits.

Just trying to trace out a working postal address for their legal representation, which often ends up at a drop box at a UPS Store, and no phone or email for their legal representation speaks volumes.

They are not "religious" Satanists at all. Their thrust is anti-religion, no matter whose belief it is, and they find ways to insert themselves. Underwear Gnomes here. 1) Start a challenge, 2) stuff in the middle, 3) Profit !

Indeed if their filings have the name of an attorney attached, it might be an interesting exercise to see if they are a member of the MA Bar, and if so what their rating is, who they work for, and where their office is.

My guess is that most of these searches end up at a cul de sac. Indeed I'd place a buck or two on that bet.

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