For a while now, I’ve been posting about the atheist and Satanist displays in Boca Raton, Florida’s Sanborn Square park. They’ve been vandalized and restored and stolen and then put back up with locks in place.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is responsible for the atheist banner… but what about the Satanic display? That one’s courtesy of Preston Smith, a local church/state separation activist.
He also happens to be a language arts teacher at Boca Raton Community Middle School, and now the school’s PTA president, Kim Bremer, wants him fired:
The president of the school’s parent teacher student association said she doesn’t want Smith to continue teaching at the school.
His display included the words “All children shall hail Satan.” Parents said that is not a message a middle school teacher should spread.
But worshiping a God who committed acts of genocide and continues letting starving children die is better…? I don’t get it.
In any case, Bremer completely misunderstands how the law works. Smith has every right to believe in and advocate for whatever he wants to on his own time. There’s no evidence that he promotes Satanism in the classroom. Bremer just disagrees with him — not exactly grounds for firing anyone.
Does she want all Muslim teachers fired, too? What about atheist activists? What about people who campaigned for the candidate she didn’t vote for?
As someone who spent several years as a public school teacher while also maintaining this site, I’m sympathetic to people like Smith, who have done absolutely nothing wrong but are treated as bad role models by people who don’t understand the First Amendment and wrongly claim to understand what we believe.
For what it’s worth, The Satanic Temple’s Seven Fundamental Tenets are far more ethical than what you’ll find with the Ten Commandments.
I’ve reached out to Smith and Bremer for comment, but at least Smith’s job isn’t in any danger. The District’s superintendent politely dismissed Bremer’s suggestion that he should be let go:
“We certainly can’t micro-manage what an individual does outside of the schoolhouse,” [Superintendent Dr. Robert] Avossa said. “I am aware of the situation. This isn’t the first time this individual has participated in an activity like that. What we do is answer any questions as they come up at the school.”
Okay, so it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the freedom of speech. But he’s right to say that it’s not the District’s job to police teachers outside the classroom. As long as you’re not proselytizing while on the clock, public school teachers are free to promote their beliefs however they’d like during their spare time.
***Update*** (12/20): Preston Smith responded to a reporter’s questions the following way:
— How often do you speak about atheism in the class? I don’t proselytize my own viewpoints in the classroom or disparage any child’s personal faith, nor should any teacher — no matter their religious affiliation. I’ve never had a substantiated complaint or any disciplinary action against me regarding this issue, period.
— What do students say to you about the display? Pew Research shows one-third of those under 30 are non-religious, the highest percentage ever and growing. Students have an uncanny ability to be more tolerant, respectful, and educated about diversity than most adults. There is a mutual understanding not to discuss the display with me on campus.
— How do you respond to parents who want you out? “May the Children Hail Satan” is an artistic expression of defiance toward the Sanborn Square nativity scene, which performs an annual reenactment of predatory indoctrination in a public park targeting young children before they have critical thinking skills. Satan and God are clearly both fictional characters devoid of any verifiable peer-reviewed scientific evidence. As Richard Dawkins stated, “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.”
— Would you consider leaving the classroom? I agree with state law and the Constitution that affirm there is no religious test for serving in public office, including being a teacher. So not only no, but hell no.