Steven Singer: After School Satan Clubs Are Teaching Public School Districts an Important Lesson in Free Speech
Teacher-blogger Steven Singer looks at the point being made by an unusual trend–the growth of after school Satan clubs. Reposted with permission.
Be careful what you wish for – you just might get it.
That seems to be the lesson public school districts across the country are being forced to learn from an unlikely source – Satan.
Thousands of districts in the US allow religious organizations and clubs to operate on public school property, especially after classes are over.
So The Satanic Temple (TST) – an organization that’s not really Satanic or a temple – goes around proposing After-School Satan Clubs at the same districts – and all Hell breaks loose.
Keep in mind none of these districts need open their grounds to religious organizations. They could simply cite the Separation of Church and State and be done with it.
The first clause in the Bill of Rights states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This has been interpreted to mean that the government shall neither support nor prohibit religious expression.
Our right-leaning Supreme Court has chipped away at this notion allowing all kinds of government support – however logic and consistency still mean something.
Districts apparently CAN ignore the Church/State conundrum – BUT – if a district is going to violate this tenant for one organization, it has to be willing to do so for all.
And that is why TST is making this point.
Unlike the Church of Satan, a religious institution founded in the 1960s that literally worships the Biblical devil, TST is a non-theistic organization which uses hyperbole and humor to protest the Religious Right and authoritarianism. The organization says it strives to “provide a safe and inclusive alternative” to Christian-based groups that may seek to “convert school children to their belief system.”
The TST’s latest victory is the first After-School Satan Club in Pennsylvania, which is set to hold its inaugural meeting today.
All it took was a police investigation and the threat of a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to make it happen.
The Saucon Valley School District in the Lehigh Valley already allows explicitly religious organizations to hold meetings on school grounds like the Good News Club run by the Child Evangelism Fellowship, a Christian fundamentalist organization that seeks to influence schoolchildren as young as five.
So TST requested permission to start a new club on district property with the slogan “Educatin’ with Satan.”
“Proselytization is not our goal, and we’re not interested in converting children to Satanism,” writes TST. “We prefer to give children an appreciation of the natural wonders surrounding them, not a fear of everlasting other-worldly horrors.”
The response was immediate with messages from concerned citizens flooding into the district.
The point went over many people’s heads. “What’s next, the after-school heroin club?” asked someone in an email.
Others seemed to understand the district’s hypocrisy in blurring the lines between Church and State: “Please shut down all religious after-school clubs if that’s what needs to be done to keep Satan out of that building,” read another email.
And then there was this: “I’m gonna’ come in there and shoot everybody,” said a recorded voice.
The caller wasn’t some hooded devil worshipper. He allegedly was a 20-year-old North Carolina man who was worried, “the After-School Satan Club is trying to turn kids into devils,” according to law enforcement.
Shortly after, the suspect, Ceu “Van” Uk, was arrested by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police. He was arraigned on a charge of Terroristic Threats and sent to jail in lieu of $75,000 bail. He is expected to be extradited to Pennsylvania, according to a news release.
Though violence was averted, the school board and administrators denied the club’s request. They even blamed the After-School Satan Club for the controversy despite it being the target of Uk’s violence.
“Our community has experienced chaos. Our students, staff, and teachers have had to endure a threat to their safety and welfare,” Superintendent Jaime Vlasaty wrote.
“The gravity of feelings of instability, anxiety, and fear have been profound.”
This is exactly what you get when you tear down the wall between Church and State. But the board eventually relented and allowed the club to meet after threats by the ACLU.
Both the national and Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU sent a letter to the Saucon Valley School District demanding that it allow the After-School Satan Club access to school facilities just as it allows other clubs. The district eventually agreed.
The club, which has six student members and is the first of its kind in the Commonwealth, New Jersey or Delaware, is expected to have its first meeting today in the district middle school.
Sadly, the Pennsylvania incident is just the most recent one in which religious people have resorted to threats of violence to stop others from the same religious expression they take for granted.
Another After-School Satan Club, which was allowed to meet in February at an elementary school in the Chesapeake School District in Virginia, followed a similar path.
Parents protested outside B.M. Williams Primary School, but the first meeting was held on February 16 anyway and reportedly attended by nine students.
Less than a week later, the elementary school was forced to evacuate following a bomb threat from an email saying the school promoted “devil worship,” according to local media.
The email mentioned threats toward three people: a Chesapeake school board member, the superintendent and the organizer of the After-School Satan Club. “You are evil, there is no other way to put it,” the email reads. “You promote devil worship and unIslamic values.”
It’s ironic how so-called religious values like tolerance and non-violence are more frequently found with Satan than adherents of faiths that are supposed to be espousing those beliefs.
There’s also something glaringly disingenuous when schools complain about these issues – they could avoid clubs of a religious nature entirely.
Just respect the Separation of Church and State and your problem goes away.
If people want religious clubs, hold them where they belong – churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship. Don’t pretend to legitimize your faith by placing these clubs at school – the same place kids learn science, history, math and reading.
There are only seven active After-School Satan Clubs, according to June Everett, TST’s director for the project. Donovan Elementary School in Lebanon City Schools near Cincinnati, Ohio, hosts another such club.
By contrast, there are more than 4,000 Good News Clubs in public schools (often elementary schools) in America. Their stated purpose is:
“to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.”
The lessons taught in these Evangelical and similar clubs are far more destructive than anything you’ll find in an irreverent “Satan” club. Good News Clubs and others like them stress Old Testament narratives of a retributive God who punishes sin, warns children that they will suffer an eternity in Hell if they refuse to believe, and stresses complete obedience as the supreme value. They tell children as young as preschoolers that they have “dark” and “sinful” hearts, were born that way, and “deserve to die” and “go to Hell.” Such messages rob children of the innocence and enjoyment of childhood, replacing them with a negative self-image, preoccupation with sin, fear of Hell, and an aversion to critical thinking.
This is because most religious clubs are Biblically based and interpret that text literally. Meanwhile, The Satanic Temple’s more than 700,000 members don’t worship Satan. They take their central figure as a literary character, a symbol for the “Eternal Rebel,” according to their website. They are against “tyrannical authority” and support “individual sovereignty,” as well as empathy, compassion, and defiance.
TST has waged public battles against the religious and GOP right on issues involving First Amendment freedoms, LGBTQ rights, and abortion access.
Their approach has been often irreverent. In keeping with their belief in bodily autonomy, one of the temple members’ latest projects is an online clinic which aims to provide abortion medication by mail. They call it the Samuel Alito’s Mom’s Satanic Abortion Clinic.
Last October, a Dallas-area Satanic Temple held an “Unbaptism” event. According to its website, an “Unbaptism” is an activity in which “participants renounce superstitions that were imposed upon them without their consent as a child” — essentially, religious beliefs from which adults want to be disentangled. After all, most religions indoctrinate children into their beliefs before they are old enough to understand them or choose the beliefs for themselves. Why not offer them a chance to reject them once they’re mature enough to make a free choice?
The fliers for the Saucon Valley program promised kids ages 5 to 12 science and community service projects, puzzles, games, nature activities, arts and crafts, snacks “& tons of fun.”
This may scare some people, but I say thank goodness for Satan!
It’s time we stop giving religious organizations the moral high ground as a matter of course.
They need to prove their moral worth – and one way to do that would be to stop threatening people who have different beliefs.
Moreover, administrators and school directors need to rediscover their reverence for the Separation of Church and State.
This is one of the bedrock principles on which our nation was founded.
Find your courage to stand up to religious organizations demanding you shred your morals and responsibilities to everyone in the community.
If you value religious freedom, practice what you preach.
Or get ready for an After-School Satan Club in your neighborhood.