DeSantis says Satanists can’t be part of school chaplain program; Satanic Temple responds

Ron DeSantis speaks before a panel of leaders at the Faith & Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority Conference in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 2023.
Ron DeSantis speaks before a panel of leaders at the Faith & Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority Conference in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 2023. | The Christian Post/ Nicole Alcindor

The co-founder of The Satanic Temple has challenged Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to a debate on religious freedom in America after the governor said this week that Satanists can't be part of a recently approved chaplains program for public schools. 

DeSantis signed House Bill 931 into law on Thursday, allowing school districts and charter schools to "adopt a policy to authorize volunteer school chaplains to provide support, services, and programs to students as assigned by the district school board or charter school governing board." The law takes effect on July 1. 

In comments made Thursday, DeSantis said the new measure would not open the door for members of the Satanic Temple to be public school chaplains.

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"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. We're not playing those games in Florida," said the governor, as quoted by The Florida Phoenix.

"That is not a religion. That is not qualified to be able to participate in this. So, we're going to be using common sense when it comes to this. You don't have to worry about it."

DeSantis clarified that the chaplain program will not be imposed upon public school students, saying it is "totally voluntary for a parent or a student to participate."

Lucien Greaves, co-founder of The Satanic Temple, which oversees After School Satan Clubs and planned to take advantage of the law, argued in a series of social media posts summarizing his comments to media that DeSantis' words "hold no authority" because the U.S. Constitution "guarantees equal treatment under the law." The group has threatened to sue if its members were prohibited from participating in the chaplain program. 

Greaves stressed DeSantis "invited Satanic chaplains into public schools, whether he likes it or not" because he is "not at liberty to amend the Constitution by fiat." He also noted that The Satanic Temple is recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt religious organization. 

"If a public school district or charter school is foolish enough to believe him, they're in for a hell of a battle," Greaves added. "If and when that happens, @GovRonDeSantis is not going to have their backs."

Greaves announced Friday that after a phone call with DeSantis' office, The Satanic Temple's Executive Director of Operations Rachel Chambliss was instructed to send a formal proposal for a debate between DeSantis and Greaves. 

"We believe that a public debate would provide an excellent platform to thoroughly discuss the principles of religious freedom in America," a draft of the letter reads. 

Even some Republicans question if DeSantis can prohibit members of the Satanic Temple from becoming school chaplains.

"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," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Erin Grall, a Republican, said before HB 931 passed, as reported by The Tallahassee Democrat.

Standards for any local policy must include schools informing all parents about the program, requiring "written parental consent before a student participates in or receives supports, services, and programs provided by a volunteer school chaplain," a list of chaplains being made widely available and a background screening of any potential chaplain.

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