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As Ryan Walters mandates Bible instruction in public schools, Satanic Temple plans educational offerings

A statue associated with the Satanic Temple is seen (left); Ryan Walters speaks in 2023 (right).
A statue associated with the Satanic Temple is seen (left); Ryan Walters speaks in 2023 (right).

State Superintendent Ryan Walters says the Bible is mandatory reading for public school students.

In a press release Thursday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education wrote “all Oklahoma schools are required to incorporate the Bible, which includes the Ten Commandments, as an instructional support into the curriculum across specified grade levels.”

The department says the directive is effective immediately and memos were sent to district superintendents.

Walters reasoned in the release that the Bible is an “indispensable historical and cultural touchstone” critical to a well-rounded education.

Lawmakers and interest groups swiftly decried the move. In its own statement, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said Walters is trying to coerce and indoctrinate students.

“This is textbook Christian Nationalism: Walters is abusing the power of his public office to impose his religious beliefs on everyone else’s children,” wrote CEO Rachel Laser.

Two Democratic state representatives from Tulsa also “expressed caution” around Walters’ edict. Melissa Provenzano and John Waldron issued a joint statement urging school districts to consider state laws around the teaching of religion in public schools before implementing curriculum.

“The Superintendent should focus on running his department, not issuing ridiculous directives that are unconstitutional and don’t do anything to advance the goals he claims to be setting for Oklahoma public schools,” wrote Waldron.

Meanwhile, the Satanic Temple says it’s taking advantage of another initiative endorsed by Walters. House Bill 1425 allows students to miss class up to three times a week for religious or moral instruction.

Lucien Greaves is the co-founder of the Temple, which is a tax-exempt church according to the Internal Revenue Service. In an interview with Public Radio Tulsa, Greaves said the Temple is serious about pursuing offerings in Oklahoma.

“These are all very earnest efforts. We use humor at times, but to us, there really is a higher purpose in asserting pluralism, defending the First Amendment, defending real religious liberty for everybody, and opposing tyrannical motions that we think are aimed at instilling a theocracy.”

On its website, the Temple says its mission “is to encourage benevolence and empathy, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense, oppose injustice, and undertake noble pursuits.”

As far as possible curriculum, Greaves pointed to after school clubs created across the country by the Temple, which he said involve children playing games or solving puzzles under the supervision of members. He said whether instruction would mirror these clubs, be in person or remotely offered would depend on resources and interest in given areas of Oklahoma.

Greaves said he’s not sure if there is an approval process for groups who want to give instruction under 1425, but that it doesn’t matter, because if opportunities for religious instruction are offered to some faiths, then a legal obligation exists.

“When we go into a school district and we say we want to enact this program, we do often run into districts that don’t understand that it’s not their place to say they simply don’t want Satanists. In those cases, we end up in litigation and oftentimes they settle out in our favor before it even goes any further than that,” said Greaves.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.