The Devil in Recent American Law
63 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2019 Last revised: 18 Sep 2019
Date Written: September 1, 2019
Despite its secular aspirations, the American legal system is permeated by Christian and other religious ideas. One of the religious ideas that frequently appears in recent American law is the devil – the unholy antithesis of all that is good in the world. Called by many names, such as Satan, Lucifer, or the Antichrist, the devil is no stranger to the United States court system.
The devil arises from the depths primarily in five contexts: (1) as a source of injury to reputation in defamation cases; (2) as a prejudicial invocation made during criminal trials to secure conviction, harshen sentences, or discredit witnesses; (3) as a symptom of mental illness or delusion severe enough to qualify criminal defendants for insanity pleas and incapacitate decedents in probate; (4) as a source of religious conflict between inmates and their wardens; and, sometimes (5) as a party to litigation.
This article broadly surveys each of these five contexts, exploring how courts have adjudicated recent disputes that involve accusations or admissions of Satanism and associated rituals. Readers will learn how American courts have dealt with religious ideas that many people find distasteful, dangerous, or downright abhorrent. So far, no grand unifying theme or theory is evident, so this survey will hopefully be a springboard for further, more focused research and argument as to how the American legal system should handle disputes that implicate the “archvillain of world culture.”
Keywords: Religion, Law, Free Exercise, Establishment, Evidence, Defamation
JEL Classification: K13, K14, K36, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation