Illinois state capitol forced to display satanic statue alongside Nativity scene

Tom Embury-Dennis
'Knowledge is the Greatest Gift' statue at Illinois Capitol: Facebook/Satanic Temple

A US state capitol has been forced to display a satanic statue alongside a scene of the Nativity to mark the festive season.

A local chapter of The Satanic Temple placed the 4ft statue, called "Knowledge is the Greatest Gift", in the Illinois capitol in Springfield this week after the group's application was accepted.

The sculpture depicts a snake coiled around a woman's forearm, the hand of which is holding an apple.

In its application for the display, The Satanic Temple-Chicago calls itself a nontheistic organisation that aims to "encourage benevolence and empathy among all people".

The group also rejects tyrannical authority and advocates for common sense and justice, the application said.

Illinois secretary of state spokesman Dave Druker said the group has the same rights as other religious organisations to have a display in the rotunda.

"Under the constitution, the first amendment, people have a right to express their feelings, their thoughts," Mr Druker said. "This recognises that."

Mr Druker said the state cannot censor the contents of a display that is not funded by taxpayer dollars because the capitol rotunda is a public place.

The Satanic Temple sculpture is not the only display that challenges mainstream religious views.

The rotunda for several years has a sign from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation that states, "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

In 2008, a Springfield resident gained approval to install an aluminium Festivus pole in the rotunda, in part as a message to lawmakers that the statehouse should not feature religious displays.

Festivus, which represents an alternative to the commercialisation of Christmas, became popularised through an episode of "Seinfeld" in 1997.

Additional reporting by AP