January 31st, 2017
A group of demonstrators at Boca Raton Community Middle School would like a teacher who has expressed alternative religious views removed from the faculty. Language Arts teacher Preston Smith has erected a Satanic religious display over the holiday season that features a pentagram and sign declaring “In Satan We Trust” that stands next to a Christmas tree and nativity display. Smith’s display has been vandalized several times already. Also in response to the Satanic presentation, the school has issued a temporary ban on murals. Smith has also received some support from members of the school community. All things put into perspective, Smith considers the display a success despite the reports of vandalism because a broader conversation has been sparked.
Teachers and Religious Viewpoints
Some individuals have expressed concern over the fact that Smith is a teacher. The constitution of the United States, some argue, dictates that teachers are not allowed to promote their own religious viewpoints or to disparage any child’s faith. The Supreme Court has ruled that a student’s education is not complete without a full study of the history or literature of religious texts. Because these religious texts are a vital part of the development of civilization, teachers are allowed to teach religious matters to students provided that these teachings do not encompass the teacher’s personal religious viewpoints. In the same way that religious history or literature teaching is permissible, displays in a classroom setting that are secular in purpose or exist for education purposes are likely to found permissible while religious displays that exist for spiritual reasons will likely be found impermissible.
The Separation Between Church and State
Smith has expressed an intention to use the Satanic display to make sure that the church and state are kept different and as an experiment to show that some faiths receive special treatment. Boca Raton Community Middle School has provided a memo declaring a moratorium by the school district on the acceptance of any business partnership recognition banners after the Satanic group purchased a banner. This law, which is called the Establishment Clause, prohibits all levels of government from either advancing or inhibiting various types of religions.
How These Competing Sides are Reconciled
Cooperative programs include shared participation in specific programs and activities in accordance with the terms of a written agreement. It is particularly important that public schools and religious communities understand some important elements. School officials must take all necessary steps to ensure that any cooperative activities that occur are wholly secular in nature. Students, however, still have the right to determine their own participation in religious activities so long as this activity does not interfere with the rights of other individuals.
The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog
An ongoing struggle exists between the right of individuals to pursue their own religious beliefs with laws prohibiting the combination of education and religious pursuits. The Universal Life Church’s blog is designed to explain current issues like this recent debate at Boca Raton Community Middle School.