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The Satanic Temple makes a wicked point

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The Satanic Temple makes a wicked point

Feb 28, 2024 | 2:32 pm ET
By McKenzie Romero
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The Satanic Temple makes a wicked point
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The Utah State Capitol on Dec. 21, 2023. (Photo by Alex Goodlett for Utah News Dispatch)

As the chipper voice of a remote caller offering public comment played through the committee room, the reaction was subtle, but could still be seen.

Wide eyes. A raised eyebrow. Whispers shielded by a raised hand. A quick huddle between two lawmakers.

The comments from Rachel Chambliss, executive director of operations for The Satanic Temple, had a clear impact. 

Speaking about HB514, a bill sponsored by Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, that would allow volunteer chaplains to provide counseling in Utah’s public schools, Chambliss quickly and cheerfully made her point.

“While I would strongly prefer that Utah and other states do not enact bills that mingle religion with state functions, I can personally attest to the fact that The Satanic Temple — committed to the principles of equal religious representation and community service — is ready to embrace this new potential role within Utah’s communities,” Chambliss told the House Education Committee last week. 

In other words, if Utah schools open their doors to representatives from other religions, The Satanic Temple  wants to get in on the action.

Among those practicing religion here, Utah is a majority Christian state, and the majority of that majority are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Though a study published in December in the Journal of Religion and Demography suggests the number of Utahns who “self-identify” as Latter-day Saints has dropped to 42%, no longer a majority of the state’s overall population, the makeup of the Utah Legislature is 85% Latter-day Saint.

The discomfort over The Satanic Temple’s interest in the chaplain bill is representative of a less theatrical question: What if a non-Christian religious leader wants to counsel Utah students? What if someone who is Muslim, or Buddhist, or Jewish, or Hindu wants to participate? Lawmakers supporting the bill say yes, but with no established guidelines in the bill about participation and accreditation, what happens when someone eventually says no, getting Utah into constitutional trouble?

The intent of the bill, Stratton said, is to give school districts the option to allow volunteer chaplains to help provide emotional and spiritual support to children. But Democrats in the committee raised concerns about violating the Utah Constitution by using public money for religious exercise. If students need spiritual guidance, they know where to find it through their own faith groups and families. And if they need counsel at school, it should come from a trained, professional school counselor, they said. 

HB514 was advanced by the committee and went on to be passed by the House, reaching the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Standing Committee on Tuesday. While The Satanic Temple did not make another appearance to offer comment, the bill was met by a new group of opponents. 

Chaplains.

A group of board certified chaplains from Utah spoke against the bill, taking issue with the idea of volunteers coming into schools (leaving requirements about accreditation up to local education agencies) to work with youth, which is extremely sensitive and requires extensive training and care.  

The Rev. Nancy Cormack-Hughes, a fully endorsed professional chaplain who is, obviously, deeply committed to the work of chaplains, told the committee she opposes the bill because it complicates counseling within schools. 

“If you’re working with minors, it’s all the more complicated because of the interaction between the impressionable minor, as well as the parent, as well as the staff of the school. It’s a different form (of counseling), and it should not be done by a volunteer in any form,” said Cormack-Hughes. 

Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, summed up her nay vote saying, “If the chaplains don’t support a chaplain bill, I think that speaks volumes.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. And, if chaplains oppose it, while The Satanic Temple has given its tongue-in-cheek support, whose side are Utah lawmakers on?