Wednesday, May 15, 2024

OK: Getting On The Satan Chaplain Train

The push for school chaplains is moving across the country, pushed by the National School Chaplain Association, a group that pretty clearly hopes school chaplains will be a means of putting a particular brand of Christianity in schools. 

So far the movement's two big wins are in Texas and Florida, where the legislatures actually passed a law allowing anyone who wants to call themselves a chaplain to get into schools that set up the chaplain post. In Texas, the big pushback came from actual professional chaplains, and so far, one charter school has decided to bring in a "chaplain," because a real chaplain has actual training, sometimes specialized, and follows a set of professional ethics and is not, in fact, just some untrained true believer who thinks Jesus wants him to go recruit some children. In fact, several states have said no to the amateur hour first-amendment-busting bill.

Florida also passed a "chaplain" law, and that led to a predictable next step, which was for the Satanic Temple to announce that they would also be offering chaplains, with said announcement followed by Governor Ron DeSantis declaring that he couldn't read the plain English of the law that he would forbid any such thing to happen. 

The law is written to avoid any obvious First Amendment violation; in fact, it doesn't even require the "chaplain" to have a religious affiliation. But never mind-- DeSantis will tell you what is and is not a legitimate religion.

Well, if Texas and Florida are going galumphing off into far right field, you know Oklahoma will be close behind.

So here comes SB 36, passed through the House and now facing the Senate. The bill is a step up from the versions in Texas and Florida and some other states by virtue of some amendments to the bill. It requires the "chaplain" to have some sort of "ecclesiastical endorsement from their faith group" indicating they are an "ordained minister or member in good standing." It even requires them to have a bachelor's degree and some graduate work. The House also added a "no proselytizing" clause. 

None of this really addresses the issue that chaplains are not trained as child mental health professionals. Nor does it make it any less a violation of the First Amendment.

Critics have noted that the bill has one particular religion in mind. But you know some other group is cued up and ready to go. And Oklahoma's Education Dudebro-in-Chief Ryan Walters has come out swinging.
Let me be crystal clear: Satanists are not welcome in Oklahoma schools, but they are welcome to go to hell.

Legislators have also announced their inability to read and their misunderstanding of the Constitution opposition to the Satanic Temple. SB 36 simply wouldn't invite the Satanic Temple to send ministers to school children, said one group. 

Instead, it gives permission for the local school boards to decide whether to implement a chaplain program, leaving the decision to the duly elected school board members who represent their community’s values. Additionally, parents can decide whether or not to let their child participate in the program.

All true, but it skips over the part where the Constitution forbids discriminating against an employer on religious grounds. This is not news. The Good News Club, a program of the Child Evangelism Fellowship way back in 2001 won its case before SCOTUS that it must be allowed to have an after school club like any other group. And that was followed by the Satanic Temple winning cases to have its own after school Satan club in districts, because the First Amendment is clear on not allowing the government to pick and choose which religions are okay.

Dudebro Walters is not a dummy. He most certainly knows all this (he was an AP history teacher). But he's got an audience to play to. So here he is on Fox News, sitting in an office, playing the rightwing hits.

Asked to respond to the Satanic Temple's stated intention to expose "harmful pseudo-scientific practices in mental health care," Walters says 

I am not surprised that people who worship Satan lie. They are liars. What they are trying to do in worshipping Satan is ruin the lives of children, undermine the very Judeo-Christian values of this country and destroy our schools.

The Satanic Temple has always been pretty clear that they do not worship Satan, but are on a mission to push back against those with a theocratic bent. Walters declares 

Satanism is not a religion and we will not allow them in our school. Our bill will not allow Satanists into our schools. It will only allow religions, religions that we have protected in our country since the outset.

Sooo much baloney here. The IRS says that the Satanic Temple is a religion. And if we're going to have state officials going around declaring what is and is not a real religion, there is all sorts of bad trouble ahead. This has been a tough line for us to draw as a country, because "since the outset," we have not protected all religions. The Puritans of Massachusetts used to banish or execute folks of different religions-- and I'm not talking about the Salem witch trials, but folks like Mary Dyer, who was executed in Boston for being a Quaker who wouldn't stay properly banished. Or we could talk about when the Baptists had a fun nickname for the Catholic Church and/or the Pope-- the whore of Babylon.

"Satanists want to destroy families, want to destroy kids' lives," Walters continues. He gets out the chaplain talking point that "we've had chaplains in the military, chaplains in Congress" (trained professionals, but, you know, chaplains) and then he pivots to another point.

Under President Trump, you didn't see the Satanists believing they could actually inject themselves into schools, but under President Biden, he has really cleared the way where they feel very emboldened to try to get in there and influence our kids and they are not going to send our kids to hell.

Well, one of the more recent Satanic Temple victories came courtesy of a Trump-appointed judge. But in fact the first round attempts to launch After School Satan Clubs all came when Trump was President, including the first successful attempt in Tacoma, WA. If Walters were serious about getting his facts straight and not just working on his national profile, he could have discovered this by looking at Wikipedia. 

And that religious tax exempt status that the Satanic Temple got from the IRS? That happened in 2019, under President Trump. TST had previously rejected the idea of pursuing such status, but when President Trump signed the "religious freedom" executive order in 2017, church president Lucien Greaves told members, “As ‘the religious’ are increasingly gaining ground as a privileged class, we must ensure that this privilege is available to all, and that superstition doesn’t gain exclusive rights over non-theistic religions or non-belief."

And if you're still wondering which religions the bill is aimed at, Walters has more

We want the influence of Christian ministers. We understand that Judeo-Christian values were the foundation of this country. In the 1960s the Supreme Court weaponized the federal government against Christians. We have allowed our schools to be state-sponsored centers of atheism. 

This fits with the other Dominionist baloney that Walters has espoused, his stated intent to elevate and center one particular brand of Christianity. The same problem keeps tripping these folks up-- that darn First Amendment. You can't write laws that specify that only one brand of Christianity is to be elevated, so you say "religion" when you really mean "my preferred religion." But you're stuck with the language you have, that "religion," means that all brand of Christianity and Judaism and Islam and Buddhism and the Satanic Temple all get to play.

Folks like Walters only have a couple of choices for a fix. Either you officially codify your brand of faith into law, giving it protection and support. Or you leave the code wide for "religion," but you install an official government agency to declare which religions are "real" and may have the full benefit of the law.

Either of these options should terrify Americans, both those with the Christian faith and those outside of it. Walters knows better, and the fact that he's willing to play these games, presumably because he wants power and attention on a greater stage, marks him as a person not remotely serious enough to have any position of authority. 

P.S. Also in the news this week, an Oklahoma man has been indicted after he traveled to Salem with a pipe bomb to blow up the Satanic Temple.

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