The Orange County School Board in Florida currently allows religious groups to distribute religious material, such as Bibles, at public high schools. Atheists sought the same right — to counter the distribution of Bibles — and won. But the school board decided that things had “gotten out of hand” when members of The Satanic Temple recently announced that they wanted to disseminate material on the “philosophy and practice of Satanism.”
The board will vote in the next few months on whether to alter or eliminate the policy. Perhaps ironically, the Satanic Temple will applaud if religious materials are banned because it believes strongly in the separation of church and state.
The Orlando Sentinel story says that at least one Christian group has disseminated Bibles at schools several times– and plans to do it again in January. The Central Florida Freethought Community passed out “atheist materials in 2013 as a protest against Bible distributions.” (The Freedom From Religion Foundation, or FFRF, sued the Orange County School Board in June 2013 after that distribution of atheist material was restricted, but the case was dropped after the district gave permission for all of that material to be distributed.)
The Satanic Temple is known for proposing a satanic monument be erected at the Oklahoma state Capitol where a Ten Commandments monument was put up. When it sought permission last September to pass out its own materials at Orange County public schools, the school board decided it had a problem. The Orlando Sentinel quoted board Chairman Bill Sublette as saying, “This really has, frankly, gotten out of hand. I think we’ve seen a group or groups take advantage of the open forum we’ve had.”
The story quotes Greg Harper, vice president of the evangelical group World Changers of Florida, as saying that he would view any change in the policy as an attack on Christmas. It says:
“They seem to be moving against the interests of a large part of the community,” he said, likening it to the district’s August decision to ban football chaplains at schools. “The Bible will open somebody’s heart, somebody’s mind, and cause them to pursue answers.”
Board member Christine Moore also seemed to struggle with the effect of a policy change on Christian groups. “Everyone’s upset about the Satanists and the atheists coming,” she said.
The Satanic Temple put an announcement on its Web site in September saying that it was seeking permission to provide Satanic materials to students that would be “related to the Temple’s tenets, philosophy and practice of Satanism, as well as information about the legal right to practice Satanism in school.” But its real goal is not to get the material to students but to support efforts to stop the spread of any religious materials at public schools. The announcement says in part:
Neither FFRF nor The Satanic Temple agree with the school board’s decision to allow the distribution of religious materials in schools; however, The Satanic Temple seeks to ensure that pluralism is respected whenever the Church/State division is breached.
The Satanic Temple’s spokesperson, Lucien Greaves, explains, “We would never seek to establish a precedent of disseminating our religious materials in public schools because we believe our constitutional values are better served by respecting a strong separation of Church and State. However, if a public school board is going to allow religious pamphlets and full Bibles to be distributed to students — as is the case in Orange County, Florida — we think the responsible thing to do is to ensure that these students are given access to a variety of differing religious opinions, as opposed to standing idly by while one religious voice dominates the discourse and delivers propaganda to youth.”