“Satan clubs” stir debate at schools
Meanwhile, Christian clubs aim to win the hearts and minds of children
Two weeks before Christmas, prekindergarteners through second graders at a Virginia school received a colorful flyer. “HEY KIDS! LET’S HAVE FUN AT AFTER SCHOOL SATAN CLUB!” the paper read. The flyer invited students at B.M. Williams Primary School in coastal Chesapeake to attend club meetings in the school library starting Dec. 15.
So far, organizers have not held a meeting at the school. Parents filled school board meetings to express support and opposition to the After School Satan Club. A parent sponsor withdrew support for the club, forcing organizers to cancel the application and resubmit it. Despite initially granting the club permission to meet, school board members announced they would take more time to consider it. Organizers plan to launch the club on Jan. 19, but school officials have not confirmed if they have approved the group to meet.
Chesapeake parents aren’t alone in their concerns. Parents and community members have protested satanist clubs in Moline, Ill.; Lebanon, Ohio; York County, Pa.; Greensboro, N.C.; and Bakersfield, Calif.
For the past decade, leaders of The Satanic Temple based in Salem, Mass., have opposed state pro-life laws, Ten Commandments displays on public property, Christian prayer at government meetings, and extracurricular Christian clubs at public schools. The Satanic Temple started the After School Satan Club program in 2016.
“We’re not demons,” After School Satan Club campaign director June Everett told the Chesapeake School Board in December. “We do not believe in demons. … Our beliefs are not evil.” At its headquarters, the temple displays a cloven-hoofed, winged, horned devil figure with a pair of young children gazing upon his goat head. The Satanic Temple did not respond to an interview request from WORLD.
The After School Satan Club “does not believe in introducing religion into public schools and will only open a club if other religious clubs are operating on campus,” according to its website. The group bills itself as “a safe and inclusive alternative to … religious clubs.” At B.M. Williams Primary School, the club flyer promoted critical thinking, puzzles and games, nature activities, benevolence, empathy, compassion, and self-ownership.
On the After School Satan Club website, a majority of the answers to frequently asked questions mention Good News Clubs. Child Evangelism Fellowship (termed an “insidious organization” by the After School Satan Club), formed in 1937 and operates Good News Clubs in 5,000 schools, including B.M. Williams Primary. Club members learn Bible stories, memorize Scripture, and play games.
Child Evangelism Fellowship spokeswoman Lydia Kaiser said the organization doesn’t want to fight After School Satan Clubs forming in schools. If the government banned satanic clubs, it could also ban Christian ones, she said.
“People who don’t understand what’s at stake here—they would actually be willing to have 5,000 Good News Clubs shut down in order to get five Satan Clubs shut down,” Kaiser said.
In a landmark 2001 case, Good News v. Milford Central School, a 6-3 U.S. Supreme Court majority ruled a New York school district violated the Good News Club’s free speech by discriminating against the club’s religious viewpoint. School officials seeking to shut down an After School Satan Club in Chesapeake, by extension, could be forced to shut down Good News Clubs and other religious clubs to avoid discrimination.
Constitutional scholar Brad Jacob described the after-school club controversy as “a classic First Amendment free speech issue.” The federal Equal Access Act of 1984 permitted Bible clubs to meet in high schools all over the country, said Jacob, associate dean of the Regent University Law School in Virginia Beach, Va. The act also buttressed the ability of Good News Clubs to operate in elementary and middle schools. Schools cannot prefer one speaker’s views over another’s, he said, but they can shut down a club that engages in criminal activities or encourages an imminent violation of the law.
“Since [the act] became law, we have seen thousands of public school Bible clubs all around the country—and a handful of satanist clubs,” Jacob said. “As in Chesapeake, most of these are contrarians or comedians who don’t really have any commitment to their topic. My guess is that the [After School Satan Club] will be gone in a year, but the Good News Club will last.”
Kaiser said Child Evangelism Fellowship, a Missouri-based nonprofit, aims to reach 100 million children annually within 10 years. Encountering spiritual warfare from After School Satan Clubs is an obstacle, but also an opportunity, she said.
“We’re not going to win the battle by promoting intolerance,” Kaiser said. “We’ll win the battle by being the most winsome, speaking the truth, and letting our great God show how powerful he is compared to false gods.”
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