The debate about religious instruction in schools has emerged in court with a bid to have Satanism classes taught at some Queensland education institutions.
The state government is being challenged in the Brisbane Supreme Court for its refusal to let the Noosa Temple of Satan offer religious instruction at four state schools.
The decision was based on the Education Department’s position that the temple, created in 2019, is not a religious denomination or society, according to a letter written by department deputy director-general Peter Kelly.
But Noosa Temple of Satan leader Trevor Bell has asked the court to set aside the government’s decision by declaring the temple is a religious denomination or society.
The action comes after the temple notified four schools – Centenary and Sunshine Beach state high schools and Tewantin and Wilston state schools – of its intention to provide religious instruction classes.
The group aimed to “provide students with information about the religion of Satanism, including belief in Satan as a supernatural being, the canons of conduct and the tenets” and “to help students analyse the information and critically evaluate the religion of Satanism”, according to court documents.
Mr Bell and Noosa temple founder Robin Bristow are listed as the accredited representatives to present the classes.
Mr Bristow wrote an affidavit handed into court under the name Brother Samael Demo-Gorgon, which he chose after searching on the internet for the most demonic name he could find, the court was told on Thursday.
Although he said in media interviews he did not refer to himself as a Satanist, Mr Bristow told the court he “had reconsidered that” and would now call himself a Satanist.
He agreed under questioning from Solicitor-General Sandy Thompson QC he began canvassing “to try and persuade” parents to request religious education through the temple at schools this year.
Mr Bristow agreed he handed out leaflets outside a Queensland school while wearing a hood and cape – “very similar to yours”, he told Mr Thompson – and carrying a plastic skull he bought at Woolworths.
Three sets of parents from different schools requested the temple provide classes, although the group “received support from other parents but they didn’t sign up”, Mr Bristow added.
Mr Kelly wrote in March the department understood from statements publicly attributed to Mr Bristow “the Temple was established in response to the Australian Government’s proposal for a religious discrimination Bill and that most of the people who follow Satanism, do not believe that Satan exists”.
“Accordingly, the department considers there is a real question whether the Temple’s true purpose is political as opposed to religious,” Mr Kelly said in a letter contained in court documents.
“There is also limited evidence to demonstrate that the Temple has sufficient membership in order to be regarded as a denomination or society.”
The temple was created in response to the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, but Mr Bristow didn’t see how that was relevant to the decision, he said in response.
“We do not know the proportion of Satanists who believe in Satan and neither does the Department,” he added.
“The same could be said of all religions. There are no doubt millions of nominal ‘Christians’ who do not believe that Christ was the son of God.”
Justice Martin Burns will hand down his decision on a date yet to be confirmed.