The big news this week has been the launch of The Satanic Temple’s after school program, After School Satan (ASSC). The club is envisioned as an alternative to evangelical “Good News Clubs” and “emphasizes a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious world view” in their curriculum. As an alternative to the Good News Clubs, After School Satan is also meant to ensure that the separation of church and state is upheld. According to The Satanic Temple’s ASSC website, “The Satanic Temple does not advocate for religion in schools. However, once religion invades schools, as The Good News Clubs have, The Satanic Temple will fight to ensure that plurality and true religious liberty are respected.”
Unsurprisingly, the ASSC program has drawn the ire of religious conservatives. On August 2, the Liberty Counsel issued a statement saying that the Satanic Temple does not have the right to have their program in public schools. In the press release, Mat Staver, founder, and chairman of the Liberty Counsel is quoted as saying:
“The so-called Satanic Temple group is a handful of atheists masquerading as so-called Satanists. This group is not legitimate. Its only reason to exist is to oppose the Good News Clubs. The Good News Clubs teach morals, character development, patriotism and respect from a Christian viewpoint. Public schools welcome these clubs because they improve the behavior of the students and the Supreme Court has sided with these clubs.”
The press release goes on to say that “The so-called Satanist group has nothing good to offer the students and its entire reason for existence is to be disruptive. Schools do not have to tolerate groups which disrupt the school and target other legitimate clubs. No sane parents would consent to allow their child to attend this group.” The Liberty Counsel has offered pro bono legal representation to any school “targeted” by The Satanic Temple.
Stu de Haan, Spokesperson for The Satanic Temple of Arizona, issued the following statement on behalf of The Satanic Temple:
“Mat Staver’s response on behalf of the Liberty Council demonstrates the hypocrisy of organizations that tout “religious liberty.” The Child Evangelism Fellowship, which is represented by the Liberty Council, is the group that insisted that religion should be injected into the ‘limited public forum’ of public elementary schools in the name of plurality. Immediately upon the request of The Satanic Temple to have the same privileges as his group, Staver denounced them as illegitimate and nothing but a disruption. Having not seen the curriculum, this is disingenuous and simply untrue.”
“The Constitutional caveat to the ruling the Liberty Council fought to create is that there can be no viewpoint discrimination against other participating groups as long as there is a positive character building message for children. To preclude another religion’s opportunity would be to violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by promoting one faith over another. The irony of Staver’s assertion is that any disruption that would ensue from this endeavor would be protests from adherents to groups that his organization fought to allow in our public schools, to begin with. This ‘heckler’s veto’ is not grounds for the suppression of free speech and the free exercise of religion. The legal precedent that prohibits the substantial and material disruption of an educational institution was regarding the pro-life ‘Day of the Fetus’ disaster organized by Christian fundamentalists. It ended in the burning of plastic babies with their heads torn off and was found to be highly and predictably disruptive. However, since The Satanic Temple has no interest in this type of mayhem or misconduct, it is not grounds for the denial of The Satanic Temple’s after school program.”
Note: Thomas Essel is an active member of The Satanic Temple. The opinions herein represent the views of The Satanic Temple and the Liberty Counsel, respectively, and have been presented as objectively as possible by Thomas.