'Not a religion': Florida governor signs school chaplain bill, says Satanists not welcome

The devil is in the details after Florida Satanic Temple members announced plans to take advantage of a bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday that would allow volunteer chaplains to provide support services for public K-12 students.

"We're not playing those games in Florida," DeSantis said at a press conference at a high school in Kissimmee. "[Satanism] is not a religion. That is not qualifying to be able to participate in this."

If such a restriction occurs, it's likely to result in a First Amendment fight in the courts. The Satanic Temple, which the IRS recognizes as a tax-exempt church, told the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida earlier in the year that it would put school chaplains in Florida if the bill became law.

"Despite DeSantis's 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," said Lucien Greaves, co-founder of the Satanic Temple. "He just invited Satanic chaplains into public schools, whether he likes it or not."

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DeSantis' comments contradict those of the bill's sponsor, Sen. Erin Grall, R-Fort Pierce, who said that because of the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections, the school chaplain bill wasn’t limiting.

Grall, though, was concerned about satanic 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,” she said before the legislation passed.

More on the chaplain bill

But implementing school chaplain programs—if they choose to have them at all—will be up to local school leaders. The legislation doesn't require them.

Rather, the bill authorizes school districts and charter schools to adopt a policy for chaplains “to provide support, services, and programs to students.”

It requires parental consent before a student meets with a chaplain, who must undergo background checks. It also mandates that districts publish a list of the chaplains on their websites and that school principals inform parents about them.

Various supporters of the bill said it's a win for school children, addressing concerns about youth mental health and the need for more school counselors.

What The Satanic Temple said: Satanic Temple 'looks forward to participating' if Florida school chaplain bill passes

"There's some students who need some soulcraft, and that can make all the difference in the world," DeSantis said. "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."

Democratic lawmakers who voted against the bill had worried about the controversial groups that might participate. Some also warned it could be a vehicle for Christian nationalism, the belief that the government should favor Christianity or even be replaced by it.

Still, others had constitutional concerns and questions about the credentials of those interacting with minors who may be facing serious mental health crises.

Lawmakers pass bill: Florida lawmakers pass contentious bill allowing for chaplains in public schools

Not DeSantis' first run-in with The Satanic Temple

For more than a decade, the organization has captured attention – and generated controversy – in its advocacy for the First Amendment and religious freedom.

“The Satanic Temple believes that religion can, and should, be divorced from superstition,” it says on its website. It encourages “effective and artful protest."

And this is not the first time DeSantis has called out the group.

When he was still running for president, he said he would help pay the legal fund of a man who destroyed a shrine erected by the group's Iowa chapter in its state capitol.

“Satan has no place in our society and should not be recognized as a ‘religion’ by the federal government,” he said in a social media post.

This reporting content is supported by a partnership with Freedom Forum and Journalism Funding Partners. USA TODAY Network-Florida First Amendment reporter Douglas Soule can be reached at DSoule@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: DeSantis signs bill, says Satanists can't be Florida school chaplains