The Satanic Temple has found a way to hack conservative Supreme Court decisions that are increasingly skeptical of the wall of separation between church and state — coloring books for children.
To explain, a public school district in Orange County, Florida permitted a Christian group to distribute Bibles to the district’s students. In response, the Satanic Temple showed up with material they wanted to distribute as well, a coloring book entitled the The Satanic Children’s BIG BOOK of Activities. The Satanists also had a powerful legal argument on their side, as the Supreme Court held in Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District — a case holding than an evangelical church must be given equal access to school facilities — that “the First Amendment forbids the government to regulate speech in ways that favor some viewpoints or ideas at the expense of others.”
The school district, in other words, could allow Christians and Satanists alike to distribute literature to students. Or it could exclude both. But it cannot discriminate against the Satanists because it disagrees with the Satanic viewpoint. At a school board meeting Tuesday night, the board decided to go with a version of option B. Under their new policy, some literature may still be distributed, “but nothing that is religious, political or sectarian,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.
(Under Lamb’s Chapel it is likely that the district will ultimately have to cut back this policy even further if it wants to keep the Satanic coloring books off campus, as that decision struck down a policy which provided that school premises “shall not be used by any group for religious purposes,” but which allowed those premises to be used for secular purposes.)
The Satanic Temple, it should be noted, is not an organization of Devil worshipers. Rather, it is a group that combines intentionally provocative tactics with an aggressive rationalism. One of the Satanic Temple’s “fundamental tenets” is that “[b]eliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.”
It remains to be seen, however, whether the Satanists or other groups will be able to replicate similar victories for the separation of church and state throughout the country. In 2014, when the Supreme Court began to roll back limits on government endorsement of religious views, it also hinted at the tactic the Satanists just deployed in Florida. Though a majority of the Court upheld a legislative prayer session Town of Greece v. Galloway, Justice Anthony Kennedy also suggested that legislatures must maintain a “policy of nondiscrimination” if they invite individuals to offer prayers.
Kennedy also wrote, however, that “the Constitution does not require [a town’s lawmakers] to search beyond its borders for non-Christian prayer givers in an effort to achieve religious balancing.” Thus, if groups want to use the tactic that worked in Florida — forcing the government to choose between keeping religion separate from governance or opening government facilities to the most ridiculous messengers — they will have to find places where religion is intruding into government functions on their own. They will also have to put some of their own resources behind this tactic. That may be enough to score some high-profile victories, but it is unlikely to deter quiet incursions on the separation of church and state.