A Supreme Court judge has dismissed a group of Satanists’ bid to teach religious classes in some Queensland schools, describing the case as a “deplorable waste of state resources” and a political stunt.
Justice Martin Burns also directed group founder Robin Bristow to appear before him in two weeks to prove why he should not be prosecuted over his testimony.
Mr Bristow’s attempt to meet legal criteria of a religious organisation resulted in a “jumble of confected nonsense”, Justice Burns found.
Their review followed the group’s application to provide religious instruction at two high schools and two primary schools across Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.
On Friday, Justice Martin Burns dismissed the temple’s application and also made a direction that group founder Robin Bristow appear before him in two weeks to prove why he should not be prosecuted over his testimony.
In his written judgement, Justice Burns said the Temple’s application proposed a school program called “Satanic Religious Instruction”, with the aims and goals of providing students with information about the religion of Satanism and that Satan was a supernatural being.
The evidence included an email from the Education Department to the group that their position that the Temple was not a religious denomination or society was based on “statements publicly attributed to you” (Bristow) that the Temple was established in response to the Australian Government’s proposal for a religious discrimination bill and that most Satanists “do not believe that Satan exists”.
“Accordingly, the department considers there is a real question whether the Temple’s true purpose is political as opposed to religious.”
“There is also limited evidence to demonstrate that the Temple has sufficient membership in order to be regarded as a denomination or society,” deputy director-general Peter Kelly wrote.
‘Very effective political tool’
Mr Bristow responded that the Temple was a religion that “objects to Christian authoritarianism” and “could not sit back and watch” the implementation of the bill.
He argued there were no minimum numbers required for membership to qualify as a religious society.
Group member Trevor Bell filed the court action with a series of supporting affidavits — in one of which, Mr Bristow claimed the group had more than 8,000 Facebook followers and “likers”.
During cross-examination, Mr Bristow told the court he uses his “drag” name – Brother Samael Demo Gorgon – as it was the most demonic one he could find from a website.
“He agreed that, for him, ‘Satanism was a very effective political tool’,” Justice Burns wrote.
As late as May last year, Mr Bristow told the court he was unsure he was a satanist and now described himself as a “non-theistic Satanist” who participated in rituals but did not believe in Satan.
Justice Burns wrote that during cross-examination, Mr Bristow was referred to his affidavit where he stated that the “supernatural belief of Satan, that the Temple aims to promote, is the Satan of the Bible”, which would be taught to students in religious instruction classes and chaplaincy services.
“It was put to Mr Bristow that this was a false deposition, a proposition he attempted to deny,” he wrote.
“When challenged on his denial, Mr Bristow was unable to point to a single person, whether associated with the administration of the Temple or otherwise, who holds to (or even once held) such a belief.”
Justice Burns pointed to part of the exchange: “Applicant: If a member of the public had no interest in Satanism, could they be considered a member of the Noosa Temple of Satan” — Bristow: “I don’t see why not.”
No genuine connection to religion, Judge finds
In dismissing the Temple’s application it was a religious denomination or society, Justice Burns found the result of Mr Bristow’s attempt to meet legal criteria of a religious organisation resulted in a “jumble of confected nonsense”.
“Apart from Mr Bell and Mr Bristow, only one other person (the graphic designer) was identified by the evidence as a member of the Temple. Reliance on Facebook followers and page ‘likers’ as members of the Temple and therefore adherents is an absurd notion,” Justice Burns wrote.
Justice Burns found the Temple had no genuine connection to anything pertaining to religion and, “certainly no evidence of a shared belief in a supernatural being, thing or principle, let alone canons of conduct to give effect to such belief”.
‘A political stunt’
Justice Burns said the sole reason for the Temple’s existence was and remains “to push a political barrow”.
“It was therefore concerning to wade through what was advanced about the Temple to school principals, the deputy director-general and this court,” Justice Burns wrote.
He said of particular concern was the Temple’s claims of wanting to teach students Satan was a supernatural being.
“Aided by Mr Bell and perhaps another, Mr Bristow’s attempts to obtain approval to deliver ‘Satanic’ religious instruction in state schools was nothing more glorified than a political stunt,” Justice Burns wrote.
Mr Bristow’s persistence with the court case resulted in a “deplorable waste” of state resources.
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The Queenslander sign in the NSW-Queensland border town of Wallangarra in Queensland on October 8, 2020.
“I have no doubt that the parts of Mr Bristow’s affidavit to which I have just referred are untrue. Whether this affirmation of those parts was deliberate and material to the outcome of this application, will be for others to consider,” Justice Burns wrote.
Outside court, Mr Bell said he was disappointed with the decision but the group’s point of view was that the government did not dispute Satanism was a religion.
“Clearly they don’t want satanic groups teaching in schools and in the long run, they are going to have to do something about that,” Mr Bell said.
Mr Bell said he was yet to speak with Mr Bristow or to fully read the judgement.