This semester, the Knox County Public Schools in Tennessee is conducting a pilot program in which parents can allow their kids to leave school an hour early, one day a month, in order to attend religious classes with The Church at Sterchi Hill (about two miles away). The program is sponsored by the church and the school district has nothing to do with it, per se, except to say they won’t punish the kids for leaving early if they’re part of the program.
The kids will also get credit for attending school even though they’re at Bible study — so the choice for parents really boils down to whether they want their kids taking music or art class, or language arts, or learning about the Bible.
Right now, 70 students are participating in the Bible study.
(A similar program has been in existence in other parts of the country for decades. I’m not a fan.)
But if this Christian program is allowed to exist, wouldn’t that open the door for non-Christian groups to take advantage of the situation?
That’s what the newly formed Satanic Children’s Ministry of Knoxville intends to find out.
According to a Facebook post this week, the (independent) group says it just wants to make its case to the school board.
We’ve been struggling to find the best way to kick off our Children’s Ministry. We knew the key would be getting inside our local public schools but there was no way presenting our Satanic Release Program to the Knox Country School Board that we’d get approved on our own. We’ve been waiting patiently for another program to be introduced because once Knox County allows one religious organization to come into the schools with a release program, they have to let us all in!
We are so proud to announce that pending the school board vote in November approving The Church at Sterchi Hill’s Bible Release Time program, Satanic Children’s Ministry of Knoxville will be coming to your local elementary with our Satanic Release Program! For one hour once a month, your children can be released from their school to come learn about Baphomet!
Let your children come check out our program! We have so many activities planned to help them learn the tenets of Satanism. We’ll even send your children back to school with candy, prizes, and educational materials so they can share our program with their classmates!
We can’t wait!
Are they trolling? Who cares. If they meet the criteria, what’s the school board going to do about it?
The good thing is that local news has picked up the story and the school board is now being asked questions about whether Satanic release time is a real possibility.
Clark Stepp, who works with the ministry organizing the Christian release time, is already lying about what the Satanists are saying:
…Sadly, but also to be expected, there is a vocal minority who stands against allowing parents to exercise this right. They are are already busy writing letters to the school board, raising straw man arguments saying why this program should be shut down and why children at other schools in Knox County should not have the opportunity to attend a Bible release time classes. (In over 80 schools, we have never had a school that started this program and later decide that they should discontinue it). This minority has most recently started a fb page posing as a satanic children’s ministry of Knoxville. This is another bogus scare tactic with intentions of convincing our school board to undermine the rights of parents and students in our communities. The truth is if there really was a satanic ministry or ministry of any other religion that wanted to have a release time program it is already legal to do so as long as parents request that their kids attend. We know that this simply would not be the case.
Stepp misunderstands the Satanists. They’re not trying to get the program shut down. They want the same opportunity to participate in it. Stepp himself seems to admit it’s already legal, so there shouldn’t be any issue there.
A press release from the Satanists reiterated that same point: While they wish the program didn’t exist, if it does, they plan to make use of it.
Satanic Children’s Ministry would prefer not to introduce our own program. We do believe in a separation of church and state; However, if another religion is allowed to introduce a program to indoctrinate children, we feel we need to step up and ensure our children have their own program to attend. Our children would already be losing precious instructional time due to the schools accommodating [the Elgin Foundation’s] program, so we might as well sign them out and allow them to receive their own religious education focusing on the tenets of Satanism.
They also point out that this isn’t just outside of school. The kids are encouraged to preach to their classmates, in part by using the toys and candy that they get at the church.
[Board member Jennifer] Owen said she’s hearing a different concern from parents, that “students are coming back to school with candy, talking about what a great fun time they had.” She said parents who have contacted her — most of whom are Christian, she said, but are unsure the church’s beliefs align with their own — feel pressure from their children who feel “left out.”
If enough parents object to the proselytizing, even without the Satanists stepping onto the scene, maybe the school board will reconsider. I’m not optimistic about that, but the Satanists tell me they plan to fulfill whatever requirements the school board demands.
The East Tennessee chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is also chiming in, urging parents to push back against the program, even offering a sample script of what to say to the school board. The script focuses on what the kids may miss in school, and says that religious education can occur outside of academic classes.
I am opposed to providing Bible Release Time in the Knox County Schools. This program would rob children of essential instructional time. It also blurs the line of state/church separation. Religious instruction does not belong in our schools or during critical school time. Every family has adequate time to provide study of their religion of choice during hours outside the school day.
Please do not move forward with making the pilot program at Sterchi Elementary a county-wide program. Bible Release Time affects all students. Our children deserve the opportunity to have their full instructional time every day.
According to WBIR, the pilot program doesn’t become permanent — and allowed by state law — until the school board discusses it at two meetings, then passes a policy regarding it. They plan to discuss the issue again in mid-December.
The Satanists will be watching closely.
(Image via Facebook)