Could the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protect your child from physical restraint, seclusion, and corporal punishment?

One day while browsing my overflowing email inbox, I noticed an email from The Satanic Temple (TST). Initially, I assumed it was probably another spam email message. However, when I scanned the subject line, I saw ‘The Satanic Temple’s “Protect Children Project.”‘ Well, this sounded interesting, so I decided to read the email. The email was from Eliphaz Costus, who introduced himself as the campaign director of The Satanic Temple’s “Protect Children Project,” which he said was working to protect the bodily autonomy of all members of The Satanic Temple in public schools. The email went on to say that the Protect Children Project was created to address physical and psychological abuse that routinely occurs in public schools nationwide, including corporal punishment, solitary confinement, seclusion, restraint, and restricted bathroom access. The email complimented the work of the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint and asked if I would be open to further conversation.

The final line in the email said that children deserve a trauma-free education, which is the goal of the Protect Children Project.   

I know what you might be thinking, and I had a similar thought. What is The Satanic Temple? I mean, what Eliphaz said in the email resonated with me, but is this a group of Devil worshippers? So I went to their website. What did I see? Pentagrams, statues of Baphomet, and a tagline that read “Empathy. Reason. Advocacy.” I scrolled down the page, and it became clear that this organization was dedicated to civil rights, social justice, and science. I made my way to their frequently asked questions (FAQ) page and saw a question that grabbed my attention “Do you worship Satan.” Here is the answer to the question:

No, nor do we believe in the existence of Satan or the supernatural. The Satanic Temple believes that religion can, and should, be divorced from superstition. As such, we do not promote a belief in a personal Satan. To embrace the name, Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions. Satanists should actively work to hone critical thinking and exercise reasonable agnosticism in all things. Our beliefs must be malleable to the best current scientific understandings of the material world — never the reverse.

Can the First Amendment protect a child from seclusion?

So no, they weren’t a group of Devil worshippers. I kept reading. The Satanic Temple, it seems, is more about a deeply held set of beliefs than a belief in a religious deity. Reading more, I learned that The Satanic Temple has publicly confronted hate groups, fought for the abolition of corporal punishment in public schools, applied for equal representation when religious installations are placed on public property, provided religious exemption and legal protection against laws that unscientifically restrict peoples’ reproductive autonomy, exposed harmful pseudo-scientific practitioners in mental health care, organized clubs alongside other religious after-school clubs in schools, and engaged in other advocacy in accordance with their tenets.

So what do they believe? What are these tenants? 

  1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
  2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  4. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
  5. Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
  6. People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
  7. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

While you and I might disagree with some of their beliefs, the tenants seem to be a reasonable set of values on initial examination. I decide to have an open mind and keep reading. Next, I looked at the Protect Children Project (PCP). The PCP is based on the third tenant, which says, “one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.” The idea behind the PCP is to protect children against abuse that happens in public schools perpetrated by school officials and deemed legal. The Satanic Temple suggests that by asserting a religious claim consistent with its tenets, students who are members can legally exempt themselves from egregious forms of mistreatment, including restraint, seclusion, and corporal punishment.

Photo courtesy of The Satanic Temple

I decided to schedule a call with Eliphaz. We had a productive and pleasant conversation, and he explained further the idea behind the Protect Children Project. The concept is really quite interesting; it is about utilizing religious freedom to protect children. I am unaware of other religious organizations that have done anything similar.

Here is how it might work. Upon request, The Satanic Temple will send a letter to a school district on behalf of a registered member (registration is free). The letter will state the deeply held religious beliefs of a named student require special consideration such that the school does not interfere with their First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion. The letter would stipulate that any form of physical punishment, corporal punishment, deprivation of bathroom access, physical restraint, or seclusion imposed by the school would explicitly violate the student’s religious beliefs and practices.

The Satanic Temple says that if a school does not respect a registered student’s religious beliefs, it will try to obtain legal counsel to sue the school district for violating that student’s civil rights. This is an interesting approach that could potentially set a legal precedent.

I know some of you might still be thinking about Satanic rituals and human sacrifices, but consider the human sacrifice of children subjected to state-sponsored child abuse. We can and must do better. While the approach being taken by the organization may be nontraditional, I applaud them for standing up for the human rights of children. If you are interested in learning more about the Protect Children Project, you can email PCP@thesatanictemple.com. 

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