This summer, a Texas school board took up the issue of corporal punishment, approving use of the disciplinary technique on children. Months later, a critic is voicing its opposition, with a billboard that proclaims: “Our religion doesn’t believe in hitting children.”
The organization that paid for the billboard? The Satanic Temple.
The billboard along Route 281 in Texas comes in response to the decision by the Three Rivers Independent School District, which garrnered headlines for its policy on paddling students. A Satanic Temple news release stated that the billboard was supposed to “draw attention” to the district and serve as a wake-up call to school officials.
“There is no empirical support for the notion that punitive beatings delivered to children act as an effective corrective to problematic behavior,” Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves said in the release. “In fact, the opposite has been proven to be true.”
The billboard includes a pentagram that frames a goat’s head, according to the release, and lists a website that details the Satanic Temple’s campaign against corporal punishment. The site explains that the organization is opposed to punishment such as paddling and seclusion in schools.
“We believe in the inviolability of the human body and the right to personal sovereignty,” the website states in its FAQs section. “Being hit, held against your will in isolation. or physically restrained clearly violate these fundamental tenets.”
Three Rivers Independent School District superintendent Mary Springs said in an email to The Washington Post that the district had used corporal punishment in the past. But starting in 2015, it was dropped, albeit briefly. The policy made a return this summer, Springs wrote.
According to a written statement from Springs, the district’s board of trustees approved a policy that allowed for school administrators, or an official known as a campus behavior coordinator, to use corporal punishment. The policy didn’t automatically apply to every student; parents have to consent.
“Parents have the right to opt in or opt out in writing prior to any punishment being administered,” the statement read. “Even if parents have given written permission, parents are still contacted prior to any administration of corporal punishment to give them an opportunity to change their decision.”
The statement noted that the change in policy created a great deal of buzz, but added: “This is not a new or unfamiliar policy.”
“It has come to our attention that outside groups may try to force their beliefs on our community while attempting to orchestrate controversy and conversation regarding this policy,” the statement read. “We believe that the majority of our community is very supportive of the school and our policies.”
Greaves, the Satanic Temple spokesman, said in the press release the organization found it “sad and irresponsible” that the district allowed the practice in its schools.
“The district claims that parents may opt out of having their children beaten, but courts have ruled that schools do not have to abide by those exemptions,” he stated. “In addition, some parents are abusive and have no problem with school officials who hit their kids. We offer children who share our religious beliefs to opt out of suffering physical abuse.”
The Satanic Temple does not really believe in Satan in the traditional sense, as a figure that is represented as anti-human. “It is the position of the Satanic Temple that religion can, and should, be divorced from superstition,” its website states. “As such, we do not promote a belief in a personal Satan.”
This is not the first time the provocative organization has focused on schools in the United States. Last year, the Satanic Temple proposed “After School Satan” clubs in an effort designed to give kids another point of view, one that would counter Christian evangelical groups that sponsor programming for youths.