“Aunt Meemaw used to slap me in the mouth with a belt whenever I sassed and I grew up just fine.” – People who grew up violent and unable to process basic information.
Growing up in the Deep South, corporal punishment was expected, at home, and at school. The principal of my elementary school, an otherwise dapper and kindly middle-aged man, kept a large wooden paddle with holes in it displayed in his office for the express purpose of scaring children with the threat of violence.
The cliché didn’t end there: it had a name. I don’t remember the name, because it was never used on me. I was a veteran of open-handed beatings from my frail but intensely violent mother and I knew how terrifying and unpleasant that could be, so I couldn’t conceive of the damage this heavy wooden bat could do when wielded by a grown man.
That seed of terror would metastasize into a lifelong resentment of authority. Sure, it was very effective at forcing temporary compliance, but I lost my respect for my principal, and parents, and eventually all authority figures who use violence instead of reason (and it turns out that violence is generally the only source from which authority is derived).
Even though people knew better in the 1980s, it was very much the cultural norm. I was surprised and intrigued to read that The Satanic Temple, an activist church that eschews belief in the supernatural, was offering First Amendment religious protection to children subjected to corporal punishment in public schools.
Even having lived this, my first thought was, “Is this really necessary in 2016?” Like vaccines and autism, the verdict on spanking is in. The debate is over. As a new parent, I took for granted that when my children start school in a couple of years that having them subjected to physical violence would just not be on the table.
Surely the institutions built on principles of child development would be caught up on (not even the latest) definitive science.
Turns out, no.
Fucking of course not.
According to the Satanic Temple’s Protect Children Project website:
Per the report “A Violent Education,” issued in 2008 by the Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, corporal punishment at school has led to tens of thousands of emergency room visits where some children have even died from their wounds. Studies have also shown a clear correlation between corporal punishment and lower IQ, depression, early heart attacks, and a higher propensity for addiction and obesity. It also adversely impacts family relationships. What’s more, a report issued by the U.S. Alliance to Stop the Hitting of Children shows that spanking perpetuates child abuse and teaches children it is acceptable for people in positions of authority to resort to violence as a means of getting what they want.
Corporal punishment is practiced in 19 states, but where it is not permitted, many schools resort to placing students in solitary confinement sometimes called: “seclusion rooms,” “isolation rooms,” “decompression rooms,” “time-out rooms,” or “scream rooms.” The prevalence of this form of punishment is dramatically rising even as its use is being markedly reduced in prisons because it is considered inhumane. According to Greaves, this form of punishment is also unacceptable treatment for Temple members. “The physical and psychological abuse of children is completely immoral. It is disturbing that no other religious organization has publicly expressed this sentiment and we sincerely hope our colleagues of other faiths will come forth to protect children from these kinds of violence and support our initiative.”
So not only are they still beating the shit out of kids in public schools, they’ve added solitary confinement. Super.
So do students have to swear their souls to Satan to be afforded protection from violence? Definitely not. Not only does The Satanic Temple not believe in a literal, supernatural devil, the only tenet of the church that a student need espouse is this one, quoted in the available letter:
I am a member of The Satanic Temple, a religious organization whose adherents believe one’s body is inviolable and thus subject to one’s own will alone. It is our religious belief that you do not have the right or authority to inflict pain or psychological abuse of any kind on any individual who attends your schools. This includes, without limitation, the use of corporal punishment, the imposing of physical restraints, restricting bathroom access, and the use of isolation rooms or other means of solitary confinement.
But is mere notice enough to enforce actual change? Can making a declaration of dissent and wielding a piece of paper actually spare the rod for vulnerable students and parents of students unable to opt-out of corporal punishment?
“One of the fundamental tenets of The Satanic Temple is personal sovereignty and the inviolability of one’s body and mind. Hitting a child or placing them in solitary confinement goes entirely against our beliefs,” says Lucien Greaves, Temple spokesperson. “The documents we have made available not only provide students with a notice they can give to their principal that explains their beliefs, but also informs schools that if they refuse to acknowledge the deeply held beliefs of students, they would be violating their civil rights. School officials could potentially face criminal charges if they disregard a student’s convictions. If students report to us that they have notified their principal of their religious views and they are physically or psychological abused despite that, it is our intention to intervene.”
Perhaps the most terrifying thing about being subjected to institutional punishment as a child is the complete lack of agency. If your parents are on board with the beating, you are truly alone. While disciplinary violence is still legal at home in most of the country, now thanks to our culture of “religious freedom,” there is perhaps some positive spin that being subjected to mindless violence can be against your religion.
The same laws that protect honest bakers from the horrors of being forced to serve cakes to gays might actually protect some people – especially children – from the idiocies those very same people tend to commit.
“I’m a fan of man!” exclaims Al Pacino as the titular character in The Devil’s Advocate. And so it is with religious organizations like The Satanic Temple at the forefront of civil and human rights battles. But the question is, if the Devil is on our side, then who are we fighting?