Whether or not you admire the spirituality, or lack of spirituality, of local atheist Chaz Stevens, you’ve got to hand it to the guy.
He serves a purpose.
The Palm Beach County School Board has had a practice of allowing religious groups to
advertise their brand of salvation at county public schools. At least that was the practice until Stevens asked Boca Raton High School to display his banner, which said, “The Church of Satanology” and “Give the Devil his due.”
There’s nothing like tossing a Satanist in the punch bowl to get public organizations to shake themselves awake to the Constitutional dictates regarding the separation of church and state.
Stevens’ action prompted the school district to write a new policy, which reads, in part, that it’s not the intent of the School Board to create “a venue of forum for the expression of political, religious, or controversial subjects which are inconsistent with the educational mission of the School Board or which could be perceived as bearing the imprimatur or endorsement of the School Board.”
It’s too bad the religious zealots in the Florida Legislature haven’t been paying attention.
This session, our state lawmakers passed The Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act, a bill that encourages more religious proselytizing in public schools.
Its two main proponents have been Rep. Kim Daniels, a Democrat from Jacksonville. She’s a self-described apostle who came to the legislature as a Christian evangelical preacher. Daniels believes that witches are trying to take over the country, and may be working extra hard on President Donald Trump. Seriously.
“America is under siege, God, when it comes to the place where witches are bold enough to come out and declare that they will have authority over who’s the president of the United States,” she said during a rambling 16-minute prayer she posted online shortly after her election. “I think it’s time for the saints of God to take a radical position, and we send every curse back to the vortexes of Hell where they came from, in the name of Jesus.”
Naturally, she’s all about more Jesus time in public schools.
In the Florida Senate, her partner in this quest is State Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who owns a string of funeral homes and was the former executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida.
Baxley’s not a fan of evolution, and thinks it’s unfair that Florida’s public school children are being exposed to a science curriculum that doesn’t allow that the earth is just 6,000 years old.
They were the guiding hands that successfully passed a bill that would expand the role of religion in Florida’s public schools to levels that have alarmed the American Civil Liberties Union, the Florida Citizens for Science and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Under this act, public schools must give religious groups access to school facilities on the same basis as secular groups; teachers can’t be discriminated against for bringing their religion into class discussions and lessons, and teachers and staff can also participate in student-initiated religious activities on school grounds.
I’m sure that these North Florida lawmakers are only thinking about how this will open the schoolhouse doors wider for Christianity.
Which is why a guy like Stevens is so useful.
He helps to point out that people who claim they’re for “religious liberty” are really just interested in promoting their own narrow definition of religion on all students, whether they like it or not.
What’s going to happen when the Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act results in the first Florida public school to sound the Muslim call to prayer over the loudspeaker? And will Baxley and Daniels be proud of their efforts after the first Florida public school teacher helps launch a Santeria Club in his school, or after a teacher at another public high school takes Stevens’ Satanism banner and hangs it in her classroom?
I suspect that state lawmakers will do what the Palm Beach County School District is doing — remembering that promoting religious expression in public schools means promoting all forms of religious expression. Something that’s suddenly not such a great idea.
So here’s to Chaz Stevens, a useful anti-zealot to have around when our God-awful leaders forget the mission of their public service.