Parents of public school students may soon have the option of sending their children to participate after school in a new organization meeting in their buildings: the After-School Satan Club.
The Washington Post reported that the organization behind the clubs, the Satanic Temple co-founded in 2014 by Lucien Greaves, plans to roll out the student groups this fall, and a few clubs are already in place. Chapter heads from New York, Boston, Utah, and Arizona met in Salem, Massachusetts (where else?) with other interested parties from other states to plot their expansion.
Here are six interesting facts about the Satanic Temple and the After-School Satan Clubs.
1. After-School Satan Clubs Don’t Worship Satan
The Satanic Temple and After-School Satan Clubs do not profess belief in a literal Satan. The group “rejects all forms of supernaturalism and is committed to the view that scientific rationality provides the best measure of reality,” according to the Post article. So the organizations are essentially rationalistic and atheistic and not organized around a belief in Satan at all.
As its leaders say, the organizations have adopted the “Satan” moniker as a “metaphorical construct” intended to represent rejecting all forms of tyranny over the human mind. The clubs’ activities do not include anything theological or spiritual, but a literature lesson, creative learning activities, and a science lesson, etc.
2. The Church of Satan Rejects Using Satanic Clubs in Public Schools
The Church of Satan claims to be the official voice of true Satanism and has been around far longer than the Satanic Temple. Anton LaVey published “The Satanic Bible” in 1966 and established the Church of Satan in 1969.
On August 2, the Church of Satan posted a statement on its website rejecting the tactic of Satanic clubs in public schools: “Since the Church of Satan only allows legal adults as members, and since we are against all forms of possible proselytizing, we do not sponsor ‘clubs’ in schools…. Additionally, we do not support forms of activism which require Satanists to behave like members of other religions who do try to force their ideas on young people.”
The Satanic Temple, however, appears to be obsessed with doing whatever it takes to oppose Christian clubs. Indeed, this type of activism, which the Church of Satan corporately refuses to be involved in, appears to be a reason for the Satanic Temple’s existence, as evidenced by its previous efforts to eliminate religious speakers by closing speech forums. In 2014, it asked Phoenix, Arizona, to allow people associated with the group to open public meetings with prayers to Satan, even though they don’t believe in a literal Satan, which resulted in the city council ending prayers altogether for a while. In Oklahoma, the Satanic Temple offered to install a statue of the goat-headed demon Baphomet at the state capitol, to counter the Ten Commandments monument there.
3. Satan Clubs Could Jettison Girl Scouts and 4-H Clubs
Some public elementary schools allow outside groups to conduct meetings after school for students whose parents agree for them to attend. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in the important Good News Club decision that a suburban Albany, New York, elementary could not exclude the evangelical Good News Club from meeting after school when it allowed the Girl Scouts, 4-H, and the Boy Scouts to meet.
These are all private groups, and the First Amendment does not allow the government to exclude groups from meeting because of their viewpoint. (Full disclosure: I was part of the team of lawyers that helped Good News Club win that case at the Supreme Court).
The Satanic Temple openly opposes the private religious expression of the Good News Clubs in public schools and started the After-School Satan Clubs to compete with them. “While the Good News Clubs focus on indoctrination, instilling children with a fear of hell and God’s wrath, After-School Satan Clubs will focus on free inquiry and rationalism,” The Washington Post quoted from the Satanic Temple.
When a public school is open to all groups, the After-School Satan Clubs have the same right to meet there as do the Girl Scouts, 4-H, and the Good News Clubs. But their demonstrated strategy appears to be to use the inflammatory name “Satan” to provoke some school officials to close schools to all groups, in an effort to eliminate the evangelical Christian groups.
It’s one thing to set up a group to espouse an opposing point of view to the one religious groups choose to express in a forum. But by positioning themselves as faux Satanists instead of as the “After-School Atheist Club,” for example, they recklessly risk closing the forum to every group, even ones that have nothing to do with religion, like the Girl Scouts and 4-H. This potentially destroys the forum to “save” it from the Christians. Their opposition to evangelical Christianity should not result in denying equal access to everyone.
4. The Good News Club Decision Was Good for Everyone
Somehow, the Satanic Temple rationalists, with all of their focus on science and facts, etc., have missed the bigger reality of the growing religious diversity among the people of the United States, including those who attend U.S. public schools. The leader of the Satanic Temple acts as if the Christian Good News Clubs are the only religious entities meeting in public schools, and that the court victories they have won for freedom of speech only benefit Christians.
The Washington Post quoted Greaves of the Satanic Temple saying, “We are only doing this because Good News Clubs have created a need for this…. If you let one religion into the public schools, you have to let others, otherwise it’s an establishment of religion.” Of course that is correct, and that is what the Supreme Court ruled in the 2001 Good News Club decision. But why does he think the ruling does not benefit all student groups, religious and non-religious? He speaks as if the Supreme Court in that case gave special permission only to the Good News Clubs to meet in the schools.
That is totally incorrect. All student groups, including all student religious groups, can meet after school on the same terms. There is no more of a government stamp of approval on the Good News Club when school officials allow it to meet than there is on the 4-H Club or the Girl Scouts or a Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu group.
I discovered during a case I litigated in New York City that school officials there allow Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and other religious groups to meet in public high schools. This is happening all over the nation, not just in large cities but in smaller towns. Religious diversity is spreading, and government officials are working to accommodate a varied group of believers. This is not about one religious group dominating the forum.
So to the leaders of the Satanic Temple: Which religion is, for example, New York City “endorsing” when it allows Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian student groups to meet (or the gamers’ club, the student Democrats, the vegetarians, etc.)? The government does not endorse any particular private group by accommodating its meetings, especially when all other groups have the same freedom to meet.
5. Satan Clubs Do Not Encourage Religious Tolerance
By obsessively focusing only on Good News Clubs and the Establishment Clause, the Satanic Temple misses the big picture that many student groups, religious and non-religious, meet in public schools, so students need to learn how to tolerate their fellow classmates who do not share their beliefs. This is a timeless First Amendment principle. Each of us has the right to claim we know the truth about God or anything else, and we also have the right to proclaim it. The rest of us need to learn to listen with restraint and disagree with civility, even when we vehemently oppose the beliefs we hear advocated.
It seems the After-School Satan Clubs believe little or none of that because of their warped view that there is something improper in Good News Clubs meeting after school on the same terms as every other group, their incorrect conclusion that a school is endorsing the views of private groups it allows to meet in vacant classrooms, and their distorted understanding that the Establishment Clause justifies selective exclusion of religious groups from public forums.
Of course, the After-School Satan Clubs have the right to freedom of speech to espouse these views, no matter how wrong they are. But what I do not see from the folks at the Satanic Temple is any respect for First Amendment traditions or for the dignity of other people to advocate views that differ from theirs. What I see is a snarky disdain for anyone who believes in religion, demonstrated in part by the use of “Satan” in their organization’s name to evoke responses that have nothing to do with their beliefs.
I urge them to temper their ridicule of religion with some humility and manners. For example, how would members of the Satanic Temple deal with a group of Somali immigrants in a Minnesota public school? Would they object when school officials offer them a place to pray their Muslim prayers during the school day? Would they tell those students they must go to a mosque and not pray at the public school? Would they mock the Muslim students by telling them belief in Allah is the same as belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster?
6. Satan Clubs Raise Difficulties for Gay-Straight Alliances
The federal Equal Access Act, upheld in 1990 by the Supreme Court in the Mergens case (another Supreme Court case I worked on for the winning side), prohibits public school officials from excluding student-led political or religious groups from meeting in public secondary schools. An evangelical student Bible study club in Omaha, Nebraska, brought that case and won a great victory for equal access for all groups, regardless of their viewpoint. One beneficiary of that decision has been the numerous gay-straight alliances, now sometimes called genders and sexualities alliances, meeting alongside student Bible studies and prayer meetings in public schools.
So, Satanic Temple folks, should public schools exclude gay-straight alliances along with the Good News Clubs, let both stay, or exclude one and not the other?
If Satanic Temple leaders say gay-straight alliances can continue to meet in public schools because they are not religious, but the Good News Clubs and student Bible studies must go because they are religious, then they are urging the government to discriminate against private student groups because of the content of their speech. That is unconstitutional, because the government does not endorse the views of private speakers it accommodates. Equal access means the government treats all private groups the same, regardless of their viewpoint.
The same holds true for elementary schools. If schools are going to allow outside groups to conduct after-school programs for children who come with their parents’ permission, they are no more endorsing religious groups than they are endorsing the 4-H or the Girl Scouts.
So, After-School Satan Clubs have the right to meet in public schools, but only on the same terms and conditions as everyone else. Also, its leaders should abandon their condescending attitudes towards fellow citizens with religious beliefs, and join with us to protect the dignity of all people to exercise their freedom of speech.