When The Satanic Temple announced new after-school elementary programs in California and Ohio, parents and residents voiced their unequivocal dissent.
On Monday, Wilmington, Ohio residents protested the After School Satan Club (ASSC), saying Satanism is associated with “something evil and bad and dark.”
In Tehachapi, California, one parent denounced the clubs, which cater to children as young as 5, as “disgusting.”
ASSC is an initiative of The Satanic Temple (TST), a religious advocacy organization based in Salem, Massachusetts which is distinct from The Church of Satan. The self-described mission of the TST is to encourage benevolence, empathy, common sense and noble pursuits, and reject tyrannical authority and injustice.
According to June Everett, ASSC national director, the organization views Satan “as a symbol for standing up to tyrannical authority” and not a literal being. Satan Clubs are said by organizers to focus on “free inquiry and rationalism,” not proselytizing Satanism, and offer a variety of science projects, puzzles, games, and arts and crafts.
When parents and community members protested the clubs, school officials revealed that their hands were tied.
“By law, the District cannot discriminate against groups wishing to use [school] facilities based on viewpoint,” Tehachapi Superintendent Stacey Larson-Everson explained. Her statement was echoed by school officials in Moline, Illinois and Wilmington, Ohio.
Jim Brady, Wilmington superintendent, cited a Supreme Court ruling that requires district facilities “to be made available to all groups or to no groups,” regardless of the group’s religion.
In 2001, a Christian ministry called the Good News Club filed suit against the Milford, New York school district after it refused the group access to school facilities. The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the Good News Club, with Justice Clarence Thomas stating in his majority opinion that “Milford’s restriction violates the Club’s free speech rights.”
The same ruling has been cited by The Satanic Temple in defense of its after-school groups, many of which are located at schools that also host a Good News Club.
However, in April, Northern Elementary School in York, Pennsylvania, fought back against The Satanic Temple. The school board voted 8-1 against the proposed Satan Club, prompting TST to file a discrimination lawsuit.
Although the lawsuit is still pending, TST was allowed to host a back-to-school event in the same Pennsylvania district, something one resident decried as “crazy.”
John Ritchie, campaign director for the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, and other York residents protested the After School Satan Club.
“We are here to say that America is one nation under God,” Ritchie said. “We don’t want Satanism in our schools, and we need to do something about it.”
The conflict continued this fall, when ASSC offered to donate school supplies but the York superintendent declined its offer, recommending it give the funds to a local Christian or social service ministry instead.
In addition to hosting after-school clubs, The Satanic Temple’s other causes include advocating for abortion rights and abolishing corporal punishment in public schools.