The “black mass” controversy at Harvard ended with a fizzle — and, possibly, a Scorpion Bowl. After promising to reenact a satanic ritual on campus Monday, a group of Harvard Extension School students, in conjunction with a New York group called the Satanic Temple, had drawn condemnations from the Archdiocese of Boston, Harvard President Drew Faust, and hundreds of local Catholics, some of whom marched in protest of a rite they said mocked Catholicism. Faust and her administrators declined to throw the group off campus, citing the right to free assembly. But the public outcry seemed to do its job: Somehow, the Satanists abandoned their campus location and claimed that they instead held a quiet ceremony at the Hong Kong restaurant in Harvard Square.
A wearisome dispute now seems to be over. Still, it’s useful to read the snarky comments of a Satanic Temple leader — who wryly told Boston Magazine that, in the ritual, “Satan appears, and everybody plays spin the bottle” — and see this episode for what it was: an effort at trolling, not a statement about religion or free speech. It’s understandable, but too bad, that Catholic groups took the bait; without a public backlash, such a deliberate effort to stir up rancor would have passed with minimal attention. In the future, Harvard should feel no need to indulge such affairs with a promise of campus space. The Constitution protects speech on public property. A private institution has no obligation to help trolls.