Negative perceptions resulting from heavy media exposure surrounding membership in minority religions affect how individuals process information about such group membership. This was apparent in the United States during moral panics in the second half of the twentieth century involving new religious movements (often called “cults”) and individuals actually or allegedly involved in Satanism. This negatively biased information processing presumably carried over into the legal system. One important example involved judges and jurors charged with determining guilt and proper punishment for crimes of persons suspected of Satanist group activity. An analysis of jury decision-making in civil and criminal cases from the height of the Satanism scare in the late 1980s and early 1990s reveals some possibly biased judgments toward individuals and organizations allegedly and admittedly involved in Satanic practice. An examination of more recent legal cases shows that, although media coverage of Satanist groups has diminished, cases still occur in which allegations of Satanic practice may be used as a means of generating bias, illustrating the persistence of such ideas in society. However, courts more recently have become more discerning in dealing with such claims, and with Satanism itself, thus contributing to the decline of moral panic.
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