Shout at the Devil

Can religious groups pass out religious literature in public schools? How about if the religion is Satanism, and the literature is The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities?

What's good for the goose...

What’s good for the goose…

Apologies: This news came out about ten days ago, but I’ve been wrapped up in book research and somehow missed it. Better late than never, right?

So here’s the story in a nutshell: In Orange County, Florida, the Satanic Temple has announced plans to distribute its children’s book in public schools. Why? Because evangelical Protestant groups plan to pass out Bibles and Christian literature.

According to the Satanic group’s announcement, the plan hopes to attract attention to the need for secularism. As in other high-profile cases—such as plans for a Black Mass at Harvard—the group insists it does not really worship Satan, but rather wants Americans to shake off their religious blinders.

As the temple’s spokesperson, Lucien Greaves, explained,

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.

Indeed, the book uses Satanic imagery to promote notions of pluralism and anti-bullying. The Satanic children are represented as the only ones able to use “patience and open-mindedness” to understand kids who are different. The smiling Satanic children in the book use “inclusive language” and “[spread] knowledge … to dispel fear and ignorance.”

All sounds pretty innocent, right? And, indeed, for secular folks, this publicity stunt might indeed seem to be what one journalist called “a hilarious response to a pro-religion court ruling.”

Spreading knowledge?  Or fueling fundamentalist fears?

Spreading knowledge? Or fueling fundamentalist fears?

Personally, I agree. This effort seems to make a powerful statement about the true possibilities of religious freedom in public schools. In other cases, we’ve seen parents protest against evangelical outreach to public schools. And we’ve wondered if Jesus-loving cheerleaders would really accept similar sorts of religious free speech from other religions. If public schools are really going to work, they don’t need to ban religion. But they can’t support just one sort of religion, either.

In the end, though, I can’t help but wonder if this sort of exposure does more harm than good to the very cause the Satanists claim to espouse. They came to Orange County in an effort to support the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Satanists want to make the point that no religious literature should be permitted in public schools; no religious evangelists should be allowed to target public-school students.

As regular ILYBYGTH readers know, I’m an outsider to the world of conservative evangelical religion. But after having spent some time with conservative evangelicals and “fundamentalists,” I’m now wondering if the Satanists’ tongue-in-cheek deviltry might backfire. With this Florida campaign, the Satanic Temple is literally putting the devil on the side of the atheists. Conservative pundits can and will point to the Satanists’ efforts as evidence of the evil tilt of atheists.

So here’s the question: Is this Satanic Temple effort genius? Or self-destructive?

Does it make the point that “religious freedom” must really mean religious freedom for ALL religions? Or does it simply fuel conservative warnings that secularism is just a front for Satan?