In 2019, I joined The Satanic Temple after watching the documentary “Hail Satan?” in a local independent cinema in Baltimore. I left the theater that night with the revelation that I was already a Satanist (by TST standards), something I had been growing into my whole life without realizing it. I discovered an organization that not only perfectly defined my deeply held beliefs but was willing to take bold political action to fight the insidious forces of theocracy attempting to impose their will on our country. In their own words, The Satanic Temple’s mission “is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.” Sign me up.
Through various twists of fate, I’m now the Campaign Director for The Satanic Temple’s Protect Children Project, a national campaign to address the physical and psychological abuse that routinely occurs in US public schools. The Satanic Temple strongly believes that children should not be subjected to physical violence or psychological abuse, not only because it’s unethical, but because it violates our third tenet: “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.” Therefore, we assert that any TST member attending a public school in the US can legally claim a religious exemption from forms of mistreatment that egregiously violate Tenet III, which includes corporal punishment, seclusion, restraint, and denial of bathroom access. It’s no surprise that I sought out the Alliance Against Seclusion & Restraint as an ally in our mutual battle to protect children from harm in education.
The Protect Children Project works in practice by researching school districts with a history of violative punishments against students and following news reports of specific incidents of abuse in public schools. When a problem school is identified, we send a letter to the local district superintendent and the school board, notifying them of TST members’ deeply held belief in the inviolability of the human body and mind and informing them that physical or psychological harm against our members violates these beliefs. Upon receipt of this letter, the whole school district has been put on notice to respect the beliefs of any TST members they come into contact with. For example, we have sent letters to Round Rock Independent School District in Texas after an incident where a child was violently thrown into a wall and Cassville R-IV School District in Missouri, which decided to reinstate corporal punishment. Public school employees are beholden to the 1st Amendment, so to knowingly violate a student’s religious beliefs (and thus their civil rights) could result in legal action from TST’s lawyers.
It would be unthinkable to force a Muslim or Jewish student to eat foods that violate their dietary restrictions as punishment, and the same principle holds true for physical punishments against our members.
We have also introduced what we’re calling the “Student Rights Card,” a pocket-sized document that declares one’s deeply held belief in bodily inviolability and asserts one’s religious exemption from physical punishment. Students can carry this card in school and show it to any faculty member who threatens to violate their rights through corporal punishment, seclusion, restraint, or denial of bathroom access. If the card is ignored and they are punished in these ways, it will open the door to civil and possibly criminal liabilities.
The Supreme Court has a shameful history of upholding corporal punishment in public schools (e.g., Ingraham v. Wright ) while also being sympathetic to defenders of religious liberty. However, no one has ever made a religious claim against physical and psychological abuse against students. Our end goal (with the proper plaintiff) is to force the courts to confront this issue and choose between religious civil rights or permitting government officials to abuse children in school. Hopefully, they will rule in favor of civil rights.