Tuesday, April 23, 2024

FL: Ron DeSantis vs. Words (Also, Satan)

Earlier this year, Florida became yet another state to pass a law allowing volunteer school chaplains. It's a bad idea for a variety of reasons (outlined when actual professional chaplains spoke out against a similar bill in Texas last year).

Both the House bill and the identical Senate bill are thin on requirements. A district that wants to use volunteer school chaplains must describe what they'll do, inform parents of the availability, and get written parental consent before a student can participate in any program with the chaplain attached. The volunteer school chaplain must pass a standard district employee background screening.

There are no requirements at all for the chaplain to have actual chaplain training, even though actual professional chaplains get a great deal of religious, professional, and ethical training (but not, they note, any sort of school counseling training). And as far as the religious part goes, well, the district has to publish a list of volunteer school chaplains, "including any religious affiliation" on the district website. And when it comes to selecting a chaplain they approve for their child--
Parents must be permitted to select a volunteer school chaplain from the list provided by the school district, which must include the chaplain’s religious affiliation, if any.

Emphasis mine. 

The bills were pretty clear. And you would think somebody who graduated cum laude from Harvard Freaking Law School could understand the plain language therein. 

But DeSantis, like too many folks, has this habit of insisting that the words means what he says they mean. 

Write a law that clearly says a book is Naughty and Bannable if it mentions and sex or upsetting stuff, but then insist that there are certain books that don't fall under the law (like Certain Classics and the Bible). Write a really dumb law that says gender identity and sexual orientation can't be taught or discussed in school, ignoring that such a law means that gender-segregated bathrooms and anything mentioning traditional gender roles--all of that is illegal. Debates keep circling back around to the assertion, "Well, that may be what the law says, but that's not what it means."

While it's conservatives that often fall into this error, plenty of conservatives are smarter. In Oklahoma, religious conservatives somehow believe that when they open the door to taxpayer funded religious charter schools, only proper Christian religion will walk through that open door, it's Oklahoma conservatives who understand that once the door is opened, any religion will walk through it. 

And who always shows up to walk through that door, committed to making a point? The Satanic Temple, of course, regularly ruffling religious feathers. And they have already announced that if this bill became law, they would be sending Satanic chaplains into Florida schools.

Is there anything in that bill that says there can't be a Satanic volunteer school chaplain? Nope, not a thing. Unless you're Governor DeSantis. As reported by Douglas Soule for USA Today:
"Some have said that if you do a school chaplain program, that somehow you're going to have Satanists running around in all our schools," he said at a press conference at a high school in Kissimmee..."We're not playing those games in Florida," DeSantis continued. "That is not a religion. That is not qualifying to be able to participate in this."

The IRS has long since granted the Satanic Temple (which, too be clear, does not recognize Satan as real, let alone worship him) status as a tax-exempt church. 

The bill's sponsor is smart enough to see the problem here (and it's not Satan). Senator Erin Grall told Soule:

I think that as soon as we get in the middle of defining what is religion and what is not, and whether or not someone can be available and be on a list, we start to run (into) constitutional problems.

Exactly. Christian conservatives will rue the day they passed these sorts of laws because either A) all sorts of non-Christian faiths are going to come through that open door and B) the only way to mitigate it will be to enact some sort of govern Department of Religion to folks like DeSantis certify what qualifies as a "real" religion. And the official government Department of Religion is the last thing anybody should want. 

It's a bad bill. Amateur volunteer untrained chaplains are not, as some folks insist, a solution to the need for more mental health supports and more school counselors. That argument is an insult to actual counseling and mental health professionals, and a dismissal of the concerns it claims to address by suggesting that literally any person off the street can come in and provide meaningful mental health help. 

And for those who like the idea because they see it as a way to get Christianity into schools? What they get, and what they asked for, and what they wrote a law to allow, is the Satanic Temple, no matter how grumpy it makes DeSantis. Maybe one of his Harvard Law School professors can explain it to him.

1 comment:

  1. Let us not overlook the pastafarians and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, either.