Beachgoers in the sleepy surf town of Santa Cruz, California will soon enjoy a pristine shoreline, courtesy of a religious group some of its more conservative residents might instinctively recoil at: Satanists. Granted caretaker rights of the Seabright State Beach by the coastal cleanup nonprofit Save Our Shores, the Satanic Temple of Santa Cruz started a year-long litter removal project at the beach in early June.
Far from the largely fictitious murderous boogeymen of the Reagan-era “Satanic Panic” or the mystical Anton LaVey-helmed “Church of Satan,” the worshipers of the Satanic Temple are nontheistic social activists who don’t even believe in the devil. Co-founded in 2012 by Lucien Greaves, these modern Satanists have embraced a brand of benevolent social activism stunts and general do-goodery. TST typically uses the protected status of its religion to advocate for the constitutionally enshrined separation of church and state, pointing out state, local and federal issues that encroach upon this right in the process. Naturally, some elements of American Christian Right are none too pleased with these legal trolling antics as the church both stymies their insistence that the U.S. is a fundamentally Christian nation and softens the image of Satanists in the eyes of the general public.
This latest grassroots project, though not a legal mousetrap in the vein of the Temple’s national efforts, should nonetheless continue to paint the religion’s followers in a positive light.
During a walk through the beach she would soon be in charge of cleaning, Santa Cruz Satanic Temple chapter head, Sadie Satanas, explained how inspiration for the conservation project quite literally struck her.
"My spouse and I jog a couple times a week to the lighthouse and back, and we noticed how dirty it got," Satanas told PRØHBTD. "One day we even stepped on a syringe that was buried in the sand, and we were like, 'Kids play here, birds roost here, sea lions come up some time, and none of them needs to get stuck with a needle.'"
Her spouse then suggested organizing a beach cleanup as both a solution to the problem as well as a way to put their newly founded temple chapter to use for the public good. Satanas began the application process that week.
Save Our Shores was quick to respond—within the hour, according to Satanas—and excited to get the temple approved through orientation and ready-to-start cleaning.
"Save Our Shores is an inclusive organization, and we have an anti-discrimination policy," Executive Director Katherine Eckhart told the Santa Cruz news outlet Good Times. "We met the group and are delighted to have another organization that wants to steward our shores."
While Save Our Shores requires the temple to perform three cleanups over the course of their adoption period, Satanas says she's signed the group up for six. Each cleanup should take the crew about two or three hours.
Satanas says their chapter, having relocated from San Jose only three months prior, currently includes about 15 members, but they're "not in a hurry" to grow those numbers.
"We're not being elitist," Satanas assures, "we just like to vet everyone and get to know them for a couple months by having them show up to meetings, fill out a membership application, and have two sponsors."
These efforts are all in service of warding off those who Satanas describes as "kooks, edgelords or theistic Satanists." Basically, if you're looking to sacrifice animals or sell your soul to Lucifer, this community won't be a fit for you.
Satanas also noted that she appreciates the offers of non-Temple members who want to chip in and help her pick up trash, and she says it's great that they've inspired them to get involved, but she would prefer if these people adopt one of the many other local beaches and do their own conservation work.
"We're doing this for altruistic reasons," says Satanas, "but we're also trying to demonstrate that Satanists can do this and still be good people, and if non-Satanists get involved, that might dilute the impact of what we're doing."
Despite a few online commenters crying fire and brimstone, Santa Cruz residents seem to be overwhelmingly thrilled with the news and are commending TST beach adopters for their community involvement.
"I think they're so great for doing this," says local resident Esther Pak. "I'm already a fan of the Satanic Temple from what I've seen of their past work in the news, but I don't care what religion anyone is if they're doing something as benevolent as this."
As for those few detractors, Satanas doesn't seem too bothered, noting that "any person who would disavow us for cleaning a beach based on their moral principles really needs to reevaluate their moral principles."