BOCA RATON — Liberty Counsel, a group that advocates for Christian views, compared the satanic display controversially placed at a Boca Raton park by a local teacher to past Ku Klux Klan behavior in a letter sent to the Palm Beach County School District on Thursday.
The Virginia-based group included in the letter a public record request to search teacher Preston Smith’s school district email for references to “satan,” “Christian” and “atheism,” among other terms.
Liberty Counsel in the past has fought against same-sex marriage and recently in Palm Beach County threatened legal action when the county commission considered a ban on “conversion therapy,” or psychological treatment to change sexual orientation.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and anti-government groups, describes the Liberty Counsel as “a legal organization advocating for anti-LGBT discrimination under the guise of religious liberty.”
Smith, an eighth-grade English teacher at Boca Raton Middle, placed a 10-foot pentagram display near a Biblical nativity scene at Boca’s Sanborn Square in early December. Smith’s role as an educator has since been called into question, and the satanic display vandalized.
In the letter, provided to The Palm Beach Post by the Liberty Counsel, the Liberty Counsel compared Smith’s placement of the pentagram to the Ku Klux Klan’s placement of crosses on African-Americans’ properties in the past.
Liberty Counsel was contacted by concerned parents of Boca Raton Middle School students regarding the pentagram display, said Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel.
“We want to look into this teacher’s background,” Staver said. “Parents have a right to be concerned about this teacher.”
The group acknowledges Smith’s legal right to place the satanic display — “like the KKK’s actions were ‘protected speech’ ” — but questions whether Smith’s beliefs have seeped into the classroom, thus prompting the request to inspect Smith’s district emails, according to the letter.
They requested from the district any emails Smith sent or received that referenced the satanic display, to learn whether he used his professional email address in connection with the incident or any other “satanic” references.
Smith is adamant that his personal and professional lives are separate.
He told The Palm Beach Post on Wednesday that “I do not promote my personal beliefs in the classroom, nor do I disparage any child’s faith.”
Smith called the satanic display a social experiment that “successfully exposed what local religious folks are — paranoid, uber-sensitive cowards afraid of the changing demographics.”
The school district did not immediately respond to comment about the Liberty Counsel’s inquiry.
Liberty Counsel also sent a letter earlier this month to Boca Raton city officials, which they also shared with The Post. The letter offers free legal representation from Liberty Counsel, should the city choose to remove the display from the public park and subject itself to a lawsuit.
“We are in receipt of the letter but do not have any plans to remove the display at this time,” said Chrissy Gibson, city spokeswoman. Smith told city officials he plans to leave the pentagram, which was toppled over, in the city park, she added.
The Liberty Counsel said in a statement last year that the Southern Poverty Law Center is, “a money-driven organization that has admitted its own hypocrisy, lost sight of its own vision, and stooped to arbitrary name-calling to pander to its donors and media sensationalists.”