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The Satanic Temple

Guest Article

Lawsuits, The Satanic Temple

April 22, 2023

“Wait, why is The Satanic Temple suing you?”

A detailed look at TST’s case United Federation of Churches, LLC v. Johnson et al

Timeline

In 2014, a small group of people founded the Satanic Temple of Seattle; Nathan Sullivan was one of those founders.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, a young but nationally prominent member of the Seattle religious organization found themself sexually harassed by an older man also in the chapter. For months, the local leaders did nothing, and the young member eventually left in 2017.

In 2018, a group of Satanists in the South Puget Sound area of Washington State formed a group to be independent of but friendly with the Seattle organization. They created a Facebook page for this purpose under the name “South Sound Satanists”.

In late 2019, the two groups merged and almost immediately the South Sound group’s leader was unilaterally expelled by two of the local Seattle leaders; the South Sound group was seized, including taking over its Facebook page.

In 2020, the young member who was sexually harassed discovered and was upset to see their image was still being used by the local chapter to promote the org. Those images were finally removed, and the Chapter assured them it wouldn’t happen again.

In February 2020, a member of what had been the South Sound Saanists group expressed to another TST Washington member that he didn’t have faith in the current leadership of the Washington State group. He was unilaterally removed.

In March 2020, a public stunt at the Washington State capitol involved TST members wearing makeup similar to what the young, sexually harassed former member had made famous.

“Satanic ritual marchers are met by Christian protest and prayer.”
Cameron Sheppard | WNPA News Service

Rather than apologizing for further harm caused, intended or unintended, two local leaders began to call themselves “senior leadership”, claimed they were “democratic to a point”, and on March 12, 2020, dissolved the 20-plus-person democratic and volunteer committees in favor of a smaller group consisting of themselves, their partners, and their favored subordinates. They also said they had done nothing wrong, and anyone CC’d on the internal complaint against their handling of the situation had taken part in an attempted coup.

On March 14, 2020, they told local TST member Joshua Calavera he had been “fucking up” by using the re-purposed South Sound page (by then the “Memes page”) to say transphobia, racism, and white supremacy were bad — because, senior leadership said, this had nothing to do with Satanism. Calavera removed himself from the main Chapter page, but as admin of the Memes page, removed all the other admins and moderators from that Memes page and posted a statement declaring the page was no longer associated with the Temple and therefore was explicitly against “ableism, misogyny, and racism”, racists, transphobes, and all bootlickers who weren’t in it for the kink.

On March 14, 2020, TST’s local representatives told Calavera they were not interested in the Memes page and it was his “free and clear”.

Also on March 14, 2020, Nathan Sullivan — despite creating it — was one of a handful of people to discover he no longer had access to the local TST Discord server. This was the only form of communication Sullivan ever received that he was no longer a member of The Satanic Temple Seattle/Washington after more than five years in the organization — up until the point he was served papers for a lawsuit weeks later. But the following day, March 15, a Zoom meeting confirmed that Calavera, people CC’d on an internal complaint, and any of those people’s partners had been expelled from TST Washington on suspicion of a coup.

After the expulsions and explainer meeting, more people left the local chapter and began to share their stories of harassment and abuse, comparing notes where they had previously been isolated as well as highlighting issues present at the national level.

On March 20, 2020, expelled TST Washington member and defendant David A. Johnson was still an admin of Washington State’s chapter page and did as Calavera had done, removing all other admins and moderators and announcing it was no longer connected to The Satanic Temple. Johnson posted news articles, former member testimony from other chapters, and TST owners’ own words on the Facebook page, along with criticism of the way TST’s practices did not live up to their religious principles.

On April 3, 2020, The Satanic Temple began suing four — and only four — of the expelled people in federal court: Nathan Sullivan, Joshua Calavera, David A. Johnson, and Leah Fishbaugh.

On Feb. 26, 2021, the district court judge dismissed the case for the first time, with leave to amend some claims but dismissing the defamation claim with prejudice.

On March 29, 2021, The Satanic Temple filed an amended complaint to continue the case.

On Jan. 6, 2023, the district judge dismissed the case for a second and final time.

On Jan. 25, 2023, The Satanic Temple appealed their loss to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On April 5, 2023, The Satanic Temple filed a new case against the four defendants in King County Superior Court about the same issues previously dismissed in federal court from three years before.

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