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DeSantis signs the bill saying Satanists cannot be school chaplains in Florida


“That’s not a religion,” the governor said. “That doesn’t qualify to participate in this.”

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Members of the Satanic Temple plan to take advantage of a bill Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Thursday that allows volunteer chaplains to provide support services to public elementary and middle school students.

But DeSantis says that won’t happen.

“Some have said that if you have a school chaplain program, somehow there will be Satanists in all of our schools,” he said at a news conference at a Kissimmee high school, where he also signed a bill (HB 1317) that would schools were given more access to ‘patriotic organisations’.

“We don’t play those games in Florida,” DeSantis continued. “That’s not a religion. That does not qualify to participate in this.”

If such a restriction occurs, it will likely result in a First Amendment battle in court. The Satanic Temple, which is recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt church, told the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida earlier this year that it would place school chaplains in Florida if the bill became law.

And in a statement sent after the bill was signed, the group indicated that this had not changed. The legislation will come into effect on July 1.

“Despite DeSantis’ disregard for religious freedom, the Constitution guarantees our equal treatment under the law, and DeSantis is not free to change the Constitution by fiat or on a whim,” said Lucien Greaves, co-founder of The Satanic Temple. “He just invited satanic chaplains into public schools whether he likes it or not.”

DeSantis’ comments contradict the bill’s sponsor — Sen. Erin Grall, R-Fort Pierce — who said that because of the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom, the school chaplain bill (HB 931) was not restrictive.

However, Grall was concerned about satanic chaplains: “I think as soon as we get into the middle of defining what religion is and what it isn’t, and whether or not someone can be available and on a list, we start running.” (in) constitutional issues,” she said before the legislation was passed.

More about the chaplain bill

But putting school chaplain programs into practice will really be up to local school leaders, if they choose to do so at all. The legislation does not require them.

Instead, the bill authorizes school districts and charter schools to adopt a policy for chaplains “to provide support, services and programs to students.”

Parental consent is required before a student meets with a chaplain, who must undergo a background check. It also requires districts to post a list of chaplains on their websites and for principals to notify parents.

Several supporters of the bill said it is a victory for schoolchildren, addressing concerns about youth mental health and the need for more school counselors.

“There are students who need some soul craft, and that can make all the difference in the world,” DeSantis said. “It is completely voluntary for a parent or student to participate. No one is forced to do anything. But excluding religious groups from campus is discrimination.”

Democratic lawmakers who voted against the bill raised concerns about the controversial groups that might participate. Some also warned that it could be a vehicle for Christian nationalism, the belief that the government should favor Christianity or even be replaced by it.

Still others raised constitutional concerns and questions about the credentials of those who interact with minors who may be facing serious mental health crises.

What the Satanic Temple Said: Satanic Temple ‘looks forward to participating’ if Florida’s school chaplain bill passes

Lawmakers pass bill: Florida lawmakers pass controversial bill that would allow chaplains in public schools

Not DeSantis’ first encounter with The Satanic Temple

To be clear, members of the Satanic Temple do not actually worship Satan. Nor do they necessarily believe that Satan exists.

For more than a decade, the organization has attracted attention — and courted controversy — in its advocacy for the First Amendment and religious freedom.

“The Satanic Temple believes that religion can and should be separated from superstition,” it says on its website. It encourages ‘effective and artful protest’.

And this isn’t the first time DeSantis has called out the group.

When he still running as president, he said he would help pay the legal fund of a man who destroyed a shrine erected by the group’s Iowa chapter in the state capital.

“Satan has no place in our society and should not be recognized as a ‘religion’ by the federal government,” he said in a speech. post on social media.

This reporting content is supported through a partnership with Freedom Forum and Journalism Funding Partners. USA TODAY Network-Florida First Amendment reporter Douglas Soule can be reached at [email protected].