Austin chapter of the Satanic Temple gains followers, gives back

Rolando Hernandez

In April 2019, the IRS recognized the Satanic Temple as an official house of worship that now has the tax benefits and protection from discrimination that other religions have had. The Satanic Temple is the first Satanic religion to gain this exemption from the IRS.

Amber Rex, a national council member of the Satanic Temple said they weren’t able to receive the same benefits, such as grants, that other religious offices get because they don’t have a tax-exempt code.

“We weren’t able to do a lot of things,” Rex said. “We just want a seat at the table.”

Marshall Smith, business administrator with the First Baptist Church of Austin, said these nonprofit tax codes help provide the church with additional funding to give back to the community.

“We help provide common things the city or county doesn’t provide,” Smith said.

At first, Rex said temple members believed the temple should pay taxes but later realized it is only fair that the Satanic Temple be exempt, too, if other religious organizations aren’t required to pay taxes.

With tax exemptions, Smith said the First Baptist Church of Austin was able to aid in the needs of the “underserved and homeless neighbors” by helping with things such as getting state-issued IDs and birth certificates so that they can apply for assistance and employment programs.

However, the first Baptist Church isn’t the only organization that helps the homeless. The Satanic Temple’s Austin chapter has its own way of lending a hand.

Even before it was tax exempt, the Satanic Temple had been an active group in the community because of its beliefs. The Temple follows a set of seven fundamental tenets that encourage activism and community service, similar to other religious organizations.

Shelby Scates, the Austin chapter’s co-head, said they host an annual Menstruatin’ with Satan fundraiser to purchase feminine care products for women experiencing homelessness. 

“This initiative was started to help disenfranchised groups that traditional churches don’t normally help,” Scates said. 

Another ongoing project the Temple practices is collecting hygiene products for Stop Abuse For Everyone, a nonprofit that aids victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and children facing abuse. Scates said they have collection barrels throughout Austin at local businesses such as The Glass Coffin, a vampire-themed antique and oddities shop.

Scates also said the Temple also holds an annual unbaptism where people who feel they were baptized without consent can revoke that.

“You either pay the door fee or donate a case of water,” Scates said. “We’re raising bottles of water, it’s a baptism — kinda symbolic.”

Natalie Freeburg, the community relations and volunteer coordinator at Front Steps, said the Temple raised around 500 gallons of water last year for the organization, the nonprofit that manages the Austin Resource Center for the homeless. Freeburg also said the Satanic Temple gifted more than 4,000 water bottles to its clients experiencing homelessness.

“They are proactive, kind and committed to helping others,” Freeburg said.

With the IRS exemption, Scates said the Austin chapter can hopefully do more.

“Having this official recognition is vital for the autonomy of our religion as a whole,” Scates said.