After-school clubs are a time-honored tradition in America. Outdoorsy types go to scout meetings, nerds have their chess clubs, jocks play sports, and young Christians have the Good News Club, designed to "evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ."
But what about the Satanist kids? Where are they supposed to go?
The Satanic Temple answered that question on Monday with an announcement about its new program, the After School Satan Club (ASSC). The temple is hoping to launch ASSC chapters in nine school districts in which the Good News Club operates this year, with the ultimate goal of operating an ASSC in every school where the Good News Club has a presence, according to its spokesperson and co-founder, Doug Mesner.
Religious clubs like the Good News Club—and, the Satanic Temple hopes, ASSC—are allowed to operate in public schools thanks to Good News Club v. Milford Central School, a 2001 court case that found that any school that allows secular clubs to use its facilities must also allow religious clubs the same privilege. As of 2011, the Good News Club said it was operating in 3,560 public schools.
"Unlike the Child Evangelism Fellowship [the parent organization of the Good News Club], which openly seeks to convert children to their religious view through fear of eternal suffering, we don't believe in imposing our religious opinion," Mesner told VICE. "The After School Satan Club curriculum has been constructed by professionals who have prior experience with running secular educational kids groups. All educational lessons promote a rationalist, scientific, non-superstitious worldview."
The Satanic Temple has become known over the past few years for its dogged pursuit of religious equality. The argument that the group use for its projects—creating a gigantic bronze statue of Baphomet for the lawn of the Oklahoma State House, opening city council meetings with Satanic incantations, distributing coloring books featuring the dark lord to schools across the country—is a simple one hinging on the desire to ensure no single religion receives preferential treatment from the government.
"The After School Satan Clubs were conceived to answer the need to have a counter-balance to evangelical after-school clubs that are currently proselytizing to children in public schools across the nation," Mesner said. "We have modeled our intrusion into public schools directly off the precedent set by the Good News Clubs and the Liberty Counsel, and we refuse to have our after-school clubs held to any different standards than those imposed upon the Good News Clubs."
The Satanic Temple sent out letters to school districts on Monday outlining its plan for the ASSC, as well as requesting a booth to promote the club at back-to-school nights. And despite the club's name, Mesner says kids who want to attend don't need to worship the devil. "After School Satan Clubs are conducted by Satanists in accordance with our values, but participating children are neither required to identify as Satanists, nor will we ask that they, at any point, do so."
The clubs are hoping to meet once per month, and a signed parental letter of consent will be required for every student who wishes to participate. Like many after-school clubs, the Satanic Temple's meetups will feature literature and science lessons, art, creative-thinking exercises, and snacks, according to the announcement letter. The men and women running the programs all have a background in education, and the temple is performing criminal background checks on any adult who would like to get involved.
Since its inception, the Satanic Temple has inspired knee-jerk reactions of outrage from the Christian right and frequently been derided as trolls and jokey stuntmen, yet many of its campaigns have had real results. In addition to getting the statue of the Ten Commandments on the Oklahoma State House lawn removed, the group has provided women seeking abortions with a religious exemption designed to allow them to skip any state-mandated reading materials that contain false or misleading information, as well as the 72-hour wait time some states require. (The temple filed a lawsuit against the state of Missouri after one of its members was forced to comply with the 72-hour wait time despite her religious beliefs.) It has also launched projects aimed at protecting children from corporeal punishment (still legal in 19 states), and ensured that government buildings open their spaces up to wicked snake installations around the holidays in addition to nativity scenes. They also turned the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church's dead mom gay.
It's too early to tell what effect, if any, the After School Satan Club will have on the Good News Club or the broader issue of religious representation in public schools. In an ideal world, the temple would like to see all religious clubs removed from public schools, including its own. "If the Good News Clubs were no longer in schools, our presence would no longer be needed," Mesner said. But until that happens, they hope to remind parents and kids alike that wherever god exists in public institutions, Satan isn't far away.
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