OKLAHOMA CITY — A staffer at the archdiocesan offices in Oklahoma City was surfing the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall website, checking out the city-owned and city-operated facility’s upcoming events. What was listed? Musical after musical, a Shakespeare production, a famous folk music trio and the "Black Mass of Oklahoma."
That’s where the surfing stopped, and the situation got serious. The staffer printed out information about the black mass — a devil-worshipping ritual that is an profanation of the Catholic Mass — and shared it with Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley.
“I was astonished,” said the archbishop in an interview with the Register. “Horrified. This is not what Oklahoma City is about; this is not what our citizens and community normally would stand for.”
According to the website of the Satanist group, Satan-worshippers see the black mass “as [a] ritual to mock the Catholic Mass in the form of a blasphemy rite used to deprogram people from their Christian background” and “a religious ceremony to empower themselves and receive a ‘blessing’ from the devil.”
Tickets for the event, which is scheduled for Sept. 21— a date of occult celebration calling for human sacrifice — went on sale July 2, less than two months after the cancellation by a student group of the black mass that they had planned to stage on the campus of Harvard University in May.
“The decision by a student club to sponsor an enactment of this ritual is abhorrent; it represents a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community,” said Harvard University President Drew Faust in a statement released prior to the student group’s decision to cancel the event, following nationwide protest from Catholics against the sacrilegious ceremony.
In Oklahoma City, reactions have been somewhat different. While Archbishop Coakley has been very public with his condemnation of the event — the archdiocese issued a press release on the subject, and the archdiocesan homepage shortly thereafter posted a letter from the archbishop about the black mass — and the mayor’s office has reportedly received hundreds of complaints, the music hall and the city itself have defended the event as protected by the First Amendment.
“We can’t tell anyone No if we find, or any citizen finds, their message offensive,” explained music hall public information officer Jennifer Lindsey-McClintock.
“We do not look on any citizen any differently than any other citizen.”
In fact, as Lindsey-McClintock noted, the music hall schedule is very clearly equal opportunity: the Oklahoma City Community Church meets there every Sunday for worship.
Blind Eye Toward Content
As a civic venue, the music hall gets its direction from the city attorney’s office. “The basic instruction is: We cannot judge content; we can’t look at content,” said Rick Smith, assistant municipal counsel for the city of Oklahoma City.
“I’ve defended cases where the city has tried to do something based on content, and we don’t win those cases.”
That’s not surprising, said Robert Taylor, an attorney and the founder of southern California-based Advocates for Faith and Freedom. In its interpretation of the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause”— so called because it prohibits the government from making any law regarding the establishment of religion — the Supreme Court “has said that the government must remain neutral,” said Taylor.
“All religions, all faiths, are equal in protection.”
If this black mass included any activities in violation of the law, such as the sexual acts a black mass is purported to include, or the human sacrifice supposedly called for on Sept. 21, the government would have a right to take action to prevent the culmination of those acts. But, Smith pointed out, “We have to wait until they actually [break the law] before we stop them.”
But it seems that Dakhma of Angra Mainyu, the Satanist group organizing the black mass, understands the rules. “The ritual has been toned down to meet the laws of Oklahoma and the rules of the government building,” the event description claims. “Enjoy the delights of the devil.”
This is not the first public Satanist event to be scheduled in Oklahoma City. In 2010, a Satanic ritual was scheduled at the Civic Center Music Hall but was canceled following the expulsion of group co-founder Adam Daniels, when it was discovered by the group that he is a registered sex offender.
Daniels is now the head of Dakhma of Angra Mainyu, and Lindsey-McClintock notes that this is the fourth year the group has scheduled an occult celebration at the Civic Center Music Hall. None has been well attended; the first year, 50 tickets were sold, and, last year, nobody attended.
At the most recent count, in the second week of July, eight tickets out of 95 available had been sold to the black mass. Lindsey-McClintock added that it was unclear whether ticket buyers intended to attend the event or whether they were buying the ticket “in protest, so the seat is not filled.”
Archbishop Coakley: ‘Parameters of Decency’
For the city of Oklahoma City and staff at the Civic Center Music Hall, the situation straightforwardly hinges on the First Amendment. From Archbishop Coakley’s perspective, the issue is equally clear-cut. “There must be parameters of decency which are applied,” he said firmly.
“I think if somebody were to go to the Civic Center and tell them he wanted to have a public space for the public burning of the Quran, he would find an excuse that this is not appropriate for this space. For us, as Catholics and as Christians, a black mass is equally, if not more, outrageous as an affront to our faith.”
The archbishop noted that Satanists define themselves in terms of “violating Catholic worship.” Defiling a consecrated Host is part of the ritual of a black mass, but it is unclear if it will be included in the Sept. 21 event.
“It’s a deliberate attack upon [the] Church ... desecrating what is most sacred to us, which is the Eucharist,” said the archbishop. “I think that kind of excludes them from ordinary protections that would be applied to religious organizations.”
Not so, said Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum Institute in Washington. “Freedom of speech under the First Amendment includes the right to speak freely for or against religion without governmental interference,” he said. “Freedom of religion in the United States does not mean freedom from being offended by speech that mocks or attacks religion. The answer to offensive or hateful speech is more speech — speech that counters the offending speech.”
That is what Archbishop Coakley is striving to do: “to provide a voice and leadership drawing attention to it and encouraging people to pray and to voice their concerns to civic officials.”
If the black mass is not canceled, the archbishop said the Catholic community will “do what we can do to bear witness to our faith in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” whether through Masses of reparation, Holy Hours or processions.
An Invitation to Evil
Regardless of the legal fine points of free speech and religious freedom, there is a larger issue that many seem to be missing, Archbishop Coakley said.
“They’re calling upon a powerful force of evil and inviting this presence into our community,” he said.
“This is just a very dangerous thing.”
Register correspondent Elisabeth Deffner writes from Orange, California.