The Satanic Temple, a Salem-based political organization with a focus on the separation of church and state, recently launched a secular after-school program to counteract what they see as harmful proselytizing by Christian evangelical programs across the United States.
The Satanic Temple pledges that students will learn critical thinking, science, and creative expression through games and art projects, instead of lessons about Heaven and Hell they currently receive through the Good News Club, a network of Christian programs for school-aged children that currently exists is 3,560 public schools across the United States. The Temple has proposed After School Satan Clubs at nine schools in nine cities: Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle,Pensacola, Portland, Salt Lake City, Tucson, D.C., and Springfield, Missouri.
As one might expect, not everyone is thrilled about the prospect of letting Satanists hold meetings with their children or occupy space in their schools, but the Temple says they’re legally allowed to and if schools allow one religious group—Good News Club in this case—to hold after-school programs, it would be discrimination to block another just because they’re Satanists.
According to the Satanic Temple, their program will provide a necessary counterpoint to Good News Clubs, making it clear to children that Christian beliefs are not the only option.
“It sends a strong message that people can have opposing views and still be moral and respectable,” says Lucien Greaves, the Satanic Temple’s co-founder, and spokesperson.
An After School Satan Club is up and running in Portland, and there’s an open house scheduled in Seattle for parents and students to meet with volunteers from the Satanic Temple and learn what the club will be all about. The Temple is also currently coordinating with a school district in Utah to schedule an open house and Greaves says it looks like a club will be opened there soon. Five other requests are pending. Only one, so far, has prompted the Satanic Temple to get their lawyers involved.
“Tucson has been problematic," Greaves says, referring to the Tucson Unified School District, where the Satanic Temple has a pending request to hold an After School Satan Club at an elementary school. “It appears to me they’re giving illegal preference to the Good News Club.” And that preference amounts to more than a battle between the two clubs but a matter of the law.
the Temple is not giving up and, although it would rather settle the matter out of court, it’s not afraid to push the matter to a higher authority.
Coincidentally, the fight for a religious presence in schools was catalyzed by the Good News Club. In 2002, the Christian program won a Supreme Court case, Good News Club vs. Milford Central School, that allowed them to hold meetings in public schools. The ruling stated that school districts are not allowed to discriminate against after-school clubs on the grounds of religion and that they have to treat religious groups the same as they would any secular group. This, of course, seems to open a door for the Satanic Temple.
While Greaves and the Satanic Temple believe the Good News Club vs. Milford Central School ruling was flawed, violates the separation of Church and State, and should be overturned they also feel that, while it’s still the law of the land, schoolchildren need a counterbalance to what they call Christian “indoctrination.”
The rub comes down to exactly who’s running an after-school club. There are two different types of after school clubs and the laws regarding discrimination apply differently to each. First, an after-school club can be hosted by a community group renting space from a school—this is the type of club that was ruled on in Good News Club vs. Milford Central School, making it so that if a school rents out space in this manner, they have to make that space equally accessible to everyone, regardless of viewpoint and religious affiliation.
The other type of after-school club is the student-run club, where students form their own groups to discuss topics not covered by the school’s curriculum. The Equal Access Act applies to these student-led clubs. It states that schools are obliged to let their students start their own religious clubs without any discrimination. They are not, however, obliged to let outside organization start other religious clubs for the sake of balance. In practical terms, a school does not have to allow for the creation of an After School Satan Club by the Satanic Temple simply because it has a student-led Good News Club. That is the argument being made by school officials in Tucson who've blocked the creation of an After School Satan Club at Roskruge Elementary, though it has a Good News Club that is supposedly student-led.
“I have serious difficulty in believing that a middle or elementary school-aged student would start and run a club on their own initiative,” says Ian Smith of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, an attorney advising the Satanic Temple.
“The Good News Club feels that the evils of secular schooling have created a need for them. Well, we believe that the Good News Club and their abusive ideology has created a need for the After School Satan Club.”
Despite their skepticism, Greaves says the Temple tried to play along, asking the school district how they could go about starting a student-led After School Satan Club. According to Greaves, he was told that it was “up to the principal to determine student interest” and when Temple members asked if they could collect signatures to show interest, school representatives stopped responding to their requests.
Juanita Leon, an attendance clerk at Roskruge Elementary, told Complex, however, that the Temple’s application for an after-school program had been denied.
“They don’t have grounds to deny our request,” Greaves says.
Still, the Temple is not giving up and, although it would rather settle the matter out of court, it’s not afraid to push the matter to a higher authority.
“If they continue to deny the requests, then we would have to explore other options,” says Smith, the Satanic Temple’s attorney.
On the other side, however, the Good News Club and its representatives believe that the Satanic Temple is just looking to troll them with the proposal of after-school programs.
“They exist to harass and cause controversy,” says Mat Staver, an attorney that represents the Good News Club on behalf of the Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit organization that offers pro-bono legal services in the cause of religious freedom. “Schools don’t have to allow a group to come on campus just to harass and combat another club...Their goal isn’t really to gain access,” he adds, “it’s to create this fear that if you allow the Good News Club, you’ll also have to allow this Satanist club. They want to shut down access for everyone.”
Staver says that, though it hasn’t come to it yet, if Liberty Counsel was in fact enlisted to help any of the districts in question keep the After School Satan Clubs from forming in their districts, they would do so by making the case that the After School Satan Club isn’t a legitimate club, since they exist only as a reaction to the Good News Club.
To legally block the After School Satan Club, Greaves says, “You’d need a judge on the bench—maybe a Bush appointee—with a very strong evangelical bent.”
As for the claim that After School Satan Club was created in response to Good News Club, Greaves doesn’t deny that, but also doesn’t think that delegitimizes it at all.
“The Good News Club feels that the evils of secular schooling have created a need for them,” he explains. “Well, we believe that the Good News Club and their abusive ideology has created a need for the After School Satan Club.”
Ultimately, the two clubs were formed for the same reason, he says: to protect children from evil influences they’re exposed to every day. The Good News Club wants to protect children from the world, and the Satanic Temple wants to protect children from the Good News Club.