On April 1, students in public middle and high schools in Delta, Colorado, will see atheist and Satanic materials alongside Bibles and brochures for after school activities—the result of a months-long battle over whether religious material should be available to the students.
In December of last year, a middle school student told her mother that she was encouraged to pick up a free Gideon Bible during a trip to the school library, according to Anne Landman, of the Western Colorado Atheist and Freethinkers. Landman was troubled by the news, and started investigating into the situation. She found that the schools' policy allowed for religious material to be available to students, even if it's religious. Unable to convince school authorities to ban the Bibles, she went in another direction.
Landman was unable to get religious material pulled from the district’s policy so she enlisted the help of the Freedom From Religion Foundation to fight fire with fire. “FFRF, [WCAF] and the Satanic Temple all submitted literature to the school board. They have approved all of the literature for distribution, and that is scheduled to begin April 1,” says Landman. She says the end goal isn’t convert students but to end distribution of all religious materials in the schools. "The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities", for example, emphasizes patience and friendship but the fact that it’s from the Satanic Temple forces the issue.
The school, to its credit, did not find the Satanic materials inherently offensive. Now it's stuck between a rock and a hard place—Kurt Clay, Delta County School District Assistant Superintendent, told ABC affiliate KJCT that “the policy says we cannot discriminate what is handed out, we just have to follow the process.” He explained that it's important to keep the policy open to allow students to learn about extracurricular activities. With that policy in place, the school can't ban Bibles — or atheist literature.
The decision to allow the controversial material has, not surprisingly, caused a stir. On Facebook, the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers said that they've received threats from angry members of the Delta community, and that something called the Delta County School Revival is trying to get a group together to counter-distribute religious material on April 1.
For its part, the Western Colorado Atheist and Free Thinkers is promising students pizza in exchange for a discussion about atheism.
Even God-fearing kids can't resist pizza.
The Satanic Temple is known for pushing back on instances of church bleeding into state — for a while, it tried to install a massive Baphomet statue wherever Ten Commandments monuments were featured prominently.
In 2014, The Satanic Temple also helped distribute atheist and Satanic information to students who were seeing religious pamphlets in Florida. That case ended with a ban on religious material in schools altogether, as it should have.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.