November 18, 2014

Florida school board just can’t deal with these Satanic coloring books


Orange County, FL. Image via Wikipedia.

Orange County, FL. Image via Wikipedia.

As detailed in a previous MobyLives piece, the Satanic Temple was NOT handing out their self-published coloring and activity book at Orlando-area elementary schools. This didn’t stop the media from saying that they were, and we discussed the consequences of circulating specious “news”, especially if that “news” involves the classic elements of moral panic (religion, Satan, children). It looked like just a slightly interesting story blown way out of proportion that would die a quick, natural death.

Well, guess what, it’s still alive! The Satanic Temple is not relenting in their quest for clickbait. I didn’t choose the Florida beat, folks, it chose me.

As previously reported, the Orange County School Board had received numerous complaints about the coloring books despite there not actually being any. Several weeks ago, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Temple made the smallest possible step toward making these books real and/or worth discussing.

The Satanic Temple has submitted a Satanic coloring book and two fact sheets to Orange schools, requesting permission to give them out to students in January….District counsel Woody Rodriguez said legal staff would review the materials, as it did for a previous atheist group that distributed some materials to Orange students. There is no set timeline for a decision.

Well, that “no set” timeline may have gotten a little more set. The board has now moved to ban any and all religious materials because, well, they can’t take being trolled anymore.

The board discussed the issue during a workshop Thursday. The earliest it could vote to change the policy would be late January or early February, officials said “This really has, frankly, gotten out of hand,” said chairman Bill Sublette. “I think we’ve seen a group or groups take advantage of the open forum we’ve had.”

The article notes that this recent action by the board has received criticism from an evangelical group that plans to distribute Bibles to the schools in January, and the spokesman for the Temple, Doug Mesner (aka “Lucien Greaves”), who as previously discussed has jokes, nothing but jokes. It’s tempting (and hilarious) to think about Orlando as a Garden of Eden, an idyllic sinless patch of land being fought over by Satan and God. But that’s the issue; on its face this is a story to laugh at, but underneath it’s a tale of idealism’s failure and bureaucratic overcorrection.

“Everyone’s upset about the Satanists and the atheists coming,” one of the board members is quoted as saying, and I can’t help but feel a little bad for her. The board wanted to nurture an open environment for religious ideas without courting controversy, and it blew up in their face. I get the reasoning; either allow everyone to speak, or no one. And though they’re clearly squeezing this publicity stunt dry, the Satanic Temple should have the same right to join in a hypothetical conversation as any religion. Even if their contribution is nothing but a non-book that will never be printed or distributed. The Temple’s PDF link is now the top Google hit for “Satanic coloring book”, so it’ll certainly be read, if only ironically.

However, there’s a caveat: this conversation can’t happen in a public school. The board’s decision to allow distribution of any religious materials was a terrible one. It shouldn’t have taken a manufactured controversy courtesy of Mr. Greaves to get this point across. So while I really hope this story goes away, it’s got Satan in the headlines, so I really doubt it will.

Keep religion at home or nowhere at all, education at school, Bibles and Satanic coloring books everywhere in between—that’s the Florida way, or at least it should be.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.