Two weeks after initially signaling that they would revise their dress code to remove a discriminatory ban on “Satanism,” the Hays USD 489 Board of Education in Kansas has unfortunately chosen to leave the ban in place.
The issue surrounds the dress code in the district’s middle and elementary school handbooks. (The high school doesn’t have the same explicit ban.) Here, for example, is the dress code for Hays Middle School. You can see the explicit ban on clothes that have references to “Satanism” alongside bans on sex, profanity, drugs, and gang affiliation.
If “Satanism” was intended to be a reference to evil, that’s just not true. That’s more like a relic of the “Satanic Panic” of decades past. If we’ve learned anything about people who call themselves Satanic these days, they’re arguably far more moral than most religious organizations. (Followers of The Satanic Temple, to name one group, abide by the group’s Seven Fundamental Tenets, including “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.”)
A couple of weeks ago, parent Mary Turner attended a school board meeting to express that very point. Turner has three kids in the district and said her kids shouldn’t be punished for wearing clothing that promotes their beliefs. After all, it’s no different from Christians who wear religious apparel.
“I raise my children according to the seven [tenets] of satanism, and while children of other faiths can wear clothing that declares their family’s religion,” she said, “my family’s faith is specifically called out and banned in the school handbook dress code.
“Your own non-discrimination policies state that you do not discriminate against students based on religion. Your own mission says every student in every classroom every day,” Turner said.
The Satanic Temple has been a federally recognized church for many years, Turner said.
“Banning Satanic students from wearing clothing that declares their faith while allowing students of all other faiths to wear similar clothing is an act of discrimination,” she said.
“I am here to ask that the school board remove satanism from their dress code policy and they no longer blacklist my family’s faith and the faith of other families here in Hays as distracting, unsafe or offensive,” Turner said.
Later in the meeting, the board discussed the issue and it became clear some of the members just hadn’t considered the implications of that statement:
“It is interesting on the previous page, we have a non-discrimination statement,” [board member Meagan] Zampieri-Lillpopp said. “We have it up on our wall that we value diversity and we value inclusion and then we specifically say the name of one religion in the no list.
“I would challenge someone to put their own religion in that space and see how it feels,” she said.
One suggestion was to change the dress code so that line simply banned “disruptive” clothing rather than listing out specific examples. (That would’ve been fine!) But no decision was made during the meeting. The board members asked the administration to suggest a change, which they would vote on at an upcoming retreat before the start of the new school year.
At the time, I was very optimistic. A Satanist had spoken out against religious discrimination (that almost certainly existed due to pro-Christian bias) and spurred a small change that would have a much greater effect.
But when it finally came time to vote for that change, most of the board members failed to act.
In a piece for the Hays Post, reporter Cristina Janney says that the board voted 5-2 to keep the ban on “Satanism” in place. The majority’s excuses, as you might guess, were absolutely pathetic.
Here’s board member Curt Vajnar:
“It doesn’t give them every right they want. If that was true, I want my kid to be the starting pitcher at the WAC tournament, and I want my other kid to be the starting quarterback at the first home football game.“
His argument is that if kids believe they can do anything they want at school, we have to accede to their demands at every turn. That’s not what the dress code is about. There can be a ban on disruptive clothing without a discriminatory ban on one particular religious belief. There’s no parallel between that situation and demanding a particular position on the football team.
Board member Ken Brooks wasn’t any more sensible:
What you’re saying is that if someone comes and complains, we’ve got to live in fear and change everything every time someone comes and complains.
…If there hadn’t been that complaint that night, we would have all approved it as is and there wouldn’t have been any controversy at all.
What the hell are they fearing?! If a parent makes a sensible request at a board meeting, it’s literally the board’s job to consider it and make necessary changes if needed. Nothing Mary Turner called for involved fear or any kind of burden. And if she hadn’t said anything, then it’s probably true that the policy would’ve remained in place and we wouldn’t be talking about this right now. But that’s not a cause for celebration. When a mistake is pointed out, that person should be thanked, not treated like a pest.
Board president Craig Pallister also failed to understand the problem:
[Pallister], who is a former principal at Hays Middle School, said he could have added 300 items to the prohibited dress code list.
“We live in a society right now where everyone is trying to push their values,” he said. “Everyone who walks in the door or emails me has their own set of values that they are trying to set for the school district. Not very many of them are able to say it’s because it’s good for kids.“
Turner wasn’t pushing her values on anyone else. (Though let’s admit this community would be far better off if she did.) All she wanted was for her kids to be treated the same way as other kids instead of discriminated against because of their Satanic beliefs. Pallister sees that request for equality as some kind of inconvenience.
This board is just full of the dumbest people…
At least two members backed up the change. Tammy Wellbrock and Meagan Zampieri-Lillpopp voted to modify the dress code and remove the reference to Satanism. But they were outnumbered by the five buffoons who think Satanism should be banned.
Mary Turner told me last night she was disappointed by the decision:
It’s unfortunate that this is the route they chose. I expected them to quickly strike the word since it’s not in their high school manual but it seems that certain board members are more interested in forcing their own personal religious beliefs.
I asked her if any of her kids planned to push back against the decision by wearing clothes with references to Satanism when the school year begins. Would they challenge the dress code? If the school punished them for it, it could lay the groundwork for a possible legal battle…
She said it would be up to her kids. She wasn’t going to make that decision for them. If they want to wear a TST hoodie, it’s their call.
But it’s not like it’s just her kids who are the only ones who could push back. Any child who wears a perfectly innocuous Satanic shirt could test this policy. It would make for one hell of a test to see if elementary or middle school administrators punish kids for wearing clothes that aren’t inherently offensive or disruptive, but are instead a proud testament to their Satanic beliefs.
We may get the answer very soon. The first day of school is August 17.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)