Boca Raton: Teacher Behind Secular Display Under Attack

Boca Raton atheist secular display owner a teacher preston smith

The man responsible for the Pentagram display in Boca Raton, Florida – a teacher at Boca Raton Community Middle School – is under attack by his school’s PTA for efforts to promote secularism and separation of church and state through the Satanic display next to the Christian nativity in Sanborn Square Park. He erected the Satanic display next to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) provided banner that has been vandalized, protested and stolen since appearing at the beginning of December.

According to Preston Smith – who moonlights as a civil rights activist focusing on church and state separation – the PTA at his school discovered his religious activism and is now attempting to have him terminated.

Local NBC affiliate WPTV reported:

Parents said Preston Smith teaches language arts at Boca Raton Community Middle School. The president of the school’s parent teacher association said she doesn’t want Smith to continue teaching at the school, but added she can’t speak on behalf of all parents.

“A teacher we entrust our children with should not be putting a sign like this anywhere,” explained Kim Bremer. [SNIP]

His display included the words “May the children hail Satan.” Bremer said that is not a message a middle school teacher should spread.

She plans to protest outside of the school Wednesday morning with other parents.

How would Bremer feel if a teacher was promoting a Christian nativity? The focusing on Smith’s private life and religious beliefs may only be newsworthy because he’s advocating for non-Christian beliefs, but the legal standard remains the same: public school employees’ private religious beliefs and practices are protected by the First Amendment just as Christian employees who attend church and put up nativity scenes are.

That his beliefs are scary, abhorrent or otherwise distasteful to Bremer and other parents has no bearing on his ability to teach just as a Christian’s belief in the Bible should have no bearing on his or her ability to perform in the classroom.

So long as those beliefs – whether Bremer’s or any other teacher’s – do not cross over into classroom time, no one should have a problem. That’s not the case, however.

“I just don’t feel comfortable about it and I don’t agree with it,” said Solange Bush – a parent who tried to have her 14-year-old son removed from Smith’s classroom.

Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa thankfully understands the difference between private religious belief and public school employment and responded appropriately in a statement:

“We certainly can’t micro-manage what an individual does outside of the schoolhouse. I am aware of the situation. 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.”

While it’s doubtful Avossa would verbalize a Christian teacher’s outside religious activities or activism similarly, the statement is accurate.

Speaking to a reporter about the harassment he’s received for his activism, Smith didn’t mince words.

“I don’t proselytize my own viewpoints in the classroom or disparage any child’s personal faith, nor should any teacher — no matter their religious affiliation. I’ve never had a substantiated complaint or any disciplinary action against me regarding this issue, period,” he said.

When asked how his students react to the display, he said, “Pew Research shows one-third of those under 30 are non-religious, the highest percentage ever and growing. Students have an uncanny ability to be more tolerant, respectful, and educated about diversity than most adults. There is a mutual understanding not to discuss the display with me on campus.”

Smith’s response to parents fear and hysteria was a bit lengthier.

“‘May the Children Hail Satan’ is an artistic expression of defiance toward the Sanborn Square nativity scene, which performs an annual reenactment of predatory indoctrination in a public park targeting young children before they have critical thinking skills,” he said. Smith added, “Satan and God are clearly both fictional characters devoid of any verifiable peer-reviewed scientific evidence. As Richard Dawkins stated, ‘Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.'”

When asked if he would be stepping down from teaching over the controversy, Smith’s comments were brief yet concise. “I agree with state law and the Constitution that affirm there is no religious test for serving in public office, including being a teacher. So not only no, but hell no.”

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[H/T Friendly Atheist]

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he's worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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