A photo of Lucien Greaves with the title secularist of the week and a photo of Ron Desantis with the title theocrat of the week

Fla. school chaplain showdown between FFRF Action Fund’s ‘theocrat’ and ‘secularist’ 

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FFRF Action Fund’s “Theocrat of the Week” has signed into law a bill that will authorize chaplain programs in Florida’s public schools. The “theocrat” has made clear that such legislation aims to promote Christianity in schools. Our “Secularist of the Week” is the co-founder of The Satanic Temple, which is protesting the blatant proselytizing efforts of this latest push. 

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a bill that will allow school districts to hire volunteer chaplains to provide support and services traditionally reserved for school counselors. The chaplains will only have to pass a routine background check and have their religious affiliation listed on the school’s website. There are no certification requirements for chaplains or protections against proselytizing in the bill, undoubtedly leaving Florida’s children vulnerable to the influence of unqualified religious figures during the school day. The law will go into effect July 1. 

At the bill’s signing, DeSantis held a press conference in which he proved that chaplain-in-school legislation is meant to elevate Christianity. From his speech, DeSantis validated fears that Christianity will be the only religion to benefit from chaplain programs, not the religions that the governor views as unfavorable. Desantis professed: “Some have said that if you do a school chaplain program that somehow you’re going to have satanists running around in all of our schools. We’re not playing those games in Florida. That is not a religion. That is not qualifying to be able to participate in this.”

Of course, DeSantis is wrong here. The Satanic Temple is recognized by the IRS as a church and the U.S. government also recognizes Humanist, Atheist, Agnostic and Pagan as religious labels. Just because DeSantis views The Satanic Temple as unfavorable, he cannot bar satanist chaplains from schools under the current law without inviting a trove of backlash and lawsuits.  

This is not the first time DeSantis has belittled The Satanic Temple, which notably believes that religion should be divorced from superstition and generally has practitioners who do not believe in Satan. When a Christian destroyed a satanic display in the Iowa Capitol, DeSantis posted on X, “Satan has no place in our society and should not be recognized as a ‘religion’ by the federal government,” pledging to contribute to the vandal’s legal defense fund. The vandal has since been charged with a hate crime

DeSantis defended the intentions behind Florida’s chaplain programs, saying, “There’s some students who need some soulcraft, and that can make all the difference in the world. It’s totally voluntary for a parent or a student to participate. No one’s being forced to do anything. But to exclude religious groups from campus, that is discrimination.” DeSantis continued, “You’re basically saying that God has no place. That’s wrong.”

This is especially ironic because DeSantis is trying to discriminate against The Satanic Temple and nontheistic religions. Chaplain programs in public schools are inherently discriminatory and only aim to allow Christians to proselytize in Florida’s schools. 

Thankfully, our “Secularist of the Week” was quick to challenge DeSantis on his school chaplain programs. Lucien Greaves, the co-founder of The Satanic Temple, pointed out DeSantis’ misconceptions by saying, “Despite DeSantis’ contempt for religious liberty, the Constitution guarantees our equal treatment under the law, and DeSantis is not at liberty to amend the Constitution by fiat, at whim. He just invited satanic chaplains into public schools, whether he likes it or not.”

Greaves outlined how The Satanic Temple will use the bill to its advantage, saying, “We are not looking to stop the legislation, we are going to benefit from it. We are going to put satanic chaplains in Florida schools. Nothing in the bill places limits on who can become a chaplain, and Ron DeSantis can not simply amend the Constitution limiting the religious liberty of some by proclamation from the podium.” The Satanic Temple will use the legislation to highlight the inherent issues in school chaplain programs. 

Greaves pointed out the obvious flaws in the national push for chaplain-in-school legislation: “It appears that we will now be moving into the phase in which everybody pretends to be alarmed by the well-articulated, endlessly discussed and openly recognized unintended consequences of this unnecessary and disingenuously reasoned school-chaplain model legislation.”

Greaves offered to debate the governor on the issue, adding that DeSantis is “clearly and unquestionably wrong, laying bare his gross incompetence.” We are grateful for Greaves, his work with The Satanic Temple and his defense of religious liberty for the disfavored. 

The fear of satanic chaplains highlights what the FFRF Action Fund has been saying all along: Public schools must not have any adults pushing religion onto students. The only way to defend true religious liberty for all students is to keep public schools secular. Chaplain-in-school programs are dangerous — and the FFRF Action Fund will continue to fight against their efforts to proselytize students nationwide. 

FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.