It's not often that Wisconsin's Freedom From Religion Foundation supports religious practices, but that's what the group is doing in an Illinois school district, where the nonprofit group wants school leaders to lift a ban on Satanism.
The Rich Township High School District serves Matteson, Illinois, a town of 20,000 people about 35 miles south of Chicago. District leaders there "imposed a prohibition on Satanic symbols, literature and activities in the district's handbook."
"Its reasoning is that Satanism is not protected by the First Amendment and that even if it were, the belief system's harmful concepts would severely disrupt the school environment," the FFRF wrote in a statement about its efforts in Matteson. FFRF advocates for separation of church and state.
FFRF said it was contacted by a local citizen who was concerned because he or she believes the ban on Satanism amounts to a First Amendment violation.
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Satanism is an umbrella term for a loose conglomeration of "churches" and movements, some of which worship Satan as a deity, while others are more concerned with using Satanic imagery and trappings to make ideological points.
Satanism has an estimated 100,000 followers worldwide, and a handful of Satanist organizations in the U.S., including the Church of Satan founded by Satanic Bible author Anton LaVey. Others are cults dedicated to worshipping Lucifer, who is a different entity than Satan in most religious beliefs, even though the two are often referred to interchangeably.
Mostly, American Satanist groups exist as vehicles to provide contrast to mainstream religions and make political points, like a Satanist group in Detroit that passively protested a public Nativity scene on Michigan Capitol grounds with a 3-foot sculpture of a "snaketivity scene," CNN reported.
"There's nothing wrong with (having a nativity scene on government property) ... if other religions can be accepted as well," Satanist Michael Mars, who helped create the "snaketivity" scene, told CNN. "There can't be one dominating voice to all the voices."
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In its statement, FFRF argued that Satanism could be viewed as less dangerous than traditional, mainstream religions like Christianity and Islam. The group pointed to sectarian violence and passages in the Bible and Quran that allegedly advocate violence. Adherents to those religions often play down those passages by saying they're metaphorical, FFRF said.
"If this ad hoc reasoning is sufficient to forgive these passages, the same leniency must be granted to the texts of Satanism and other minority religions," FFRF wrote.
As of Feb. 23, the Rich Township School District had not responded to the FFRF's Feb. 17 letter asking for the district to lift its ban on Satanism.