Satan is coming to the University of Colorado.
OK, not really, but you wouldn’t know that from the provocative posters hanging around the Boulder campus this month.
The posters feature a black-and-white photograph of a man holding a microphone against a bright red background. Behind him, there’s a black pentagram and the outline of a ram’s skull. Above him, the words “Satan at CU?” are printed in red lettering.
The man is Lucien Greaves, co-founder and leader of the Satanic Temple, a political group that advocates for the separation of church and state. Though the group does not promote a belief in Satan, it uses Satanic imagery to show its support for rational inquiry and scientific thought.
The Secular Students and Skeptics Society student group is bringing Greaves to campus on Thursday in hopes of sparking a broader conversation about religion, science, atheism, free speech and other topics.
“I purposefully designed the poster to be a little eye-catching,” said Shawn Polson, president of the student group. “It’s like a bait-and-switch. It’s this scary imagery and this guy and you think, ‘Wow, this is going to be terrible,’ but when you learn about him, he’s just a neuroscientist who went to Harvard who is incredibly articulate.”
The Secular Students and Skeptics Society is a local chapter of the national Secular Student Alliance, a group that promotes secular values and activism.
“We have weekly meetings on campus where we usually just discuss some science-y thing that interests us,” Polson said. “Most of our members are scientists. We have this side mission of spreading scientific thought.”
Polson said he felt Greaves and the Satanic Temple aligned with the group’s core tenets. The student group was granted roughly $1,200 in student fees to pay for the event, which includes travel for Greaves, advertising and other costs.
When Polson approached CU’s Strategic Relations department about designing a poster for the event, a staffer there recommended that he remove the CU logo from his colorful poster to “alleviate any concerns or suggestions that we are sponsoring the event.”
Campus spokesman Ryan Huff said that’s standard practice for events on campus, as the university wants to make it clear whether an event is sponsored by a student organization or the university at large. He pointed out that the Strategic Relations department advertised the event in the CU Boulder Today email newsletter that goes out to employees and students.
“We welcome all points of view on a variety of topics,” Huff said.
Polson saw the request to remove the CU logo another way.
“We had Strategic Relations making this value call of, ‘We don’t want Satanism ruining the good name of our university, we need to fight back about this quickly,'” he said.
In the end, the eye-catching posters bear the campus’s logo in one corner and the logo of the student group in another. Polson is hoping that the posters result in students and community members showing up to learn more about Greaves and the Satanic Temple.
“Eliminating misconceptions is a big thing that my organization wants to do, be it scientific misconceptions or misconceptions about the morality of atheists,” he said.