Earlier this month a middle school teacher set up a gigantic pentagram in a public park in downtown Boca Raton, Florida. The city had approved the installation, which was placed next to a nativity scene and featured the words "May the Children Hail Satan." Police have responded to vandalism reports at the display eight different times, according to the Palm Beach Sun Sentinel.
Preston Smith, the English teacher who created the installation, is an atheist and believes that the city should allow all forms of religious expression. "We are here to call out Christian hypocrisy and theistic bias in taxpayer-funded public arenas while advocating for the separation of church and state," he told the Associated Press.
The president of Boca Raton Community Middle School's parent teacher association appears to be on the other side of that argument, and thinks Smith should be fired.
"A teacher we entrust our children with should not be putting a sign like this anywhere," PTSA president Kim Bremer told WPTV. On Wednesday, about a dozen protesters and counter protesters held signs and stood outside of the school, many of whom were parents calling for Smith's dismissal, the Palm Beach Post reports.
"He had a blatant disregard for the feelings of the kids and how this would effect them," Lauren Kalina, a parent, told the Post. "He's undermining our beliefs, that's what I have a problem with."
Smith, though, said that his personal beliefs don't make it inside the classroom and he doesn't "disparage any child's personal faith." Although he was absent from school Wednesday, he does not plan to step down.
"Students have an uncanny ability to be more tolerant, respectful, and educated about diversity than most adults," he said in a statement to WPTV. "There is a mutual understanding not to discuss the display with me on campus."
For his part, the school's superintendent, Dr. Robert Avossa, seems to be siding with Smith. "We certainly can't micro-manage what an individual does outside of the schoolhouse," he told WPTV. "This isn't the first time this individual has participated in an activity like that. What we do is answer any questions as they come up at the school."
Smith is an avid activist for keeping church and state separate, something the Satanic Temple has stepped in to defend in fights all across the country. Satanic Temple co-founder and spokesman Lucien Greaves rallied behind Smith by sending his own email to Bremer. Greaves explained that situations like this send a specific message to non-Christian members of the community, in this case young kids.
"If the PTSA were to be successful in destroying Preston Smith's career, it would send a very clear message to the children: that one religious voice enjoys exclusive preference while others are not allowed," Greaves told VICE over email. "That's why I've vowed to place an After School Satan Club in the middle school if the PTSA and parents continue to harass Mr. Smith...Installing an After School Satan Club will counter-act the message of exclusive religious privilege and reassert constitutionally protected pluralism."
If Avossa's statement is any indication, it looks like Smith will get to keep his job, but his holiday display has suffered at the hands of angry community vandals once again. On Tuesday morning, the pentagram had been physically ripped out of the ground, left in a crumbled metal mess surrounded by large tire tracks carved in the grass around it. And for some Boca Raton residents, the vandalism is the most offensive outcome in this fight.
"As a marine, I served to protect our freedoms. I served to protect the freedom of religion and freedom of speech," Tom Beal told the Sentinel. "It's interesting to see how humans respond to things they don't agree with or understand."
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