PORTLAND, Ore. — Sacramento Elementary School is poised to become the first public school in the country to permit the operation of the newly-formed After School Satan club. On Nov. 15, the Portland Chapter of The Satanic Temple hosted an evening event at Parkrose Middle School with guest speakers Lucian Greaves and Jex Blackmore. They answered questions about the temple’s work and about the new after-school program. Then, on Nov. 16, the chapter scheduled a morning open house session at the host elementary school, in order to answer more questions and share its intended program. The club will open for children Nov. 23, and reportedly host meetings once per week on Wednesdays.The After School Satan clubs are the creation of The Satanic Temple (TST), which recently established a new headquarters in “America’s Witch City,” Salem, Massachusetts. The clubs were launched in reaction to the proliferation of Christian-based, evangelical after-school programming, more specifically CEF’s Good News Clubs.
In a press release, TST co-founder and spokesperson Lucien Greaves said: “It’s important that children be given an opportunity to realize that the evangelical materials now creeping into their schools are representative of but one religious opinion amongst many.”
Greaves goes on to say that the “After School Satan Clubs will focus on free inquiry and rationalism, the scientific basis for which we know what we know about the world around us. We prefer to give children an appreciation of the natural wonders surrounding them, not a fear of everlasting other-worldly horrors.”
As quoted in OregonLive, Finn Rezz, who is TST’s Portland chapter spokesperson, said another focus of the clubs is to teach “benevolence and empathy for everybody.” This ideal is something that TST sees as being in direct contrast to the Good News Clubs’ evangelical programming. In a press release, TST explained, “Unlike the Good News Club, After School Satan Club does not try to convert children to one religious ideology. Instead, it teaches children to think for themselves.”
The Good News Club, as we have reported in the past, is one of the missions of the Child Evangelical Fellowship, the purpose of which is to “evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and to establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.” The CEF after-school program is specifically “designed to bring the Gospel of Christ to children on their level in their environment.” The intent of CEF is not hidden.
While the Good News Clubs are not the only evangelical after-school program in the country (e.g. Rise Up for Christ), they are the most well known and the most common found within public school systems. CEF reported that in 2015 there were 78,000 total clubs in operation worldwide. Together with its teen program, the foundation claims to be serving 19.8 million children with “good news.”
When talking about religion-based clubs in public schools, a question of legality always arises. In 2001, CEF and the Good News Clubs were, in fact, at the center of legal battle that challenged the constitutionality of their presence within the public school environment. The city of Milford, New York had denied Stephen and Darleen Fournier’s request to establish and hold a Good News Club at their local high school. The city stated that the “the proposed use–to sing songs, hear Bible lessons, memorize scripture, and pray–was the equivalent of religious worship [and, therefore,] prohibited by the community use policy.”
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), the justices of which ruled in favor of the clubs with a decision stating that “Milford’s restriction violates the Club’s free speech rights and that no Establishment Clause concern justifies that violation.” (The Good News Club v. Milford Central High School).
As explained in the ruling, public school buildings are considered “limited public forums” and, as such, the city of Milford “discriminated against the Club because of its religious viewpoint in violation of the Free Speech Clause.” That ruling paved the way for not only an expansion of the Good News Clubs but also the birth of similar religious programs nationwide, including now TST’s After School Satan clubs.
Despite the SCOTUS ruling, Good News Clubs have continued to spark protests. In 2014, the city of Portland had one of the largest and most vocal coalitions pushing against CEF and the clubs. Its formation was propelled, in part, by the publication of journalist Katherine Stewart’s book, The Good News Club: The Religious Right’s stealth assault on American Children. Local Portland parents and other concerned citizens engaged in protest and signed petitions in an attempt to stop the clubs from expanding any further.
At the same time, the group Protect Our Children was formed. Its mission statement reads, in part, “We support freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and everyone’s right to worship as they please at home or at church. We also support the separation of church and state, and hold that public schools, which serve people of all beliefs, should be religiously neutral and free from evangelizing.”
In an August 2016 article in Willamette Week, local Pagan grandparent Lana Buchanan described how, in the fall 2015, Good News Club volunteers were aggressively passing out fliers in front of Harrison Park K-8. Buchanan was quoted as saying, “I quickly informed them we are a Pagan household and have enough gods, thank you very much.”
Despite any of those efforts, the Good News Clubs have continued to pop up in the area. Today Portland’s school system plays host to several after-school CEF programs.
In spring 2016, The Satanic Temple, which is known for its religious freedom actions, decided to join what is in essence a religious freedom debate. TST created its own school club. If schools allow the formation of Good News Clubs or the like, they must also allow the After School Satan clubs.
To begin its work, TST sent letters to a select group of school districts nationwide, noting its intention to start a school club. Greaves explained, “All of the districts we’ve approached are nearby to local chapters of The Satanic Temple, and each school district has hosted, or is now hosting, Good News Clubs in their schools. This being the case, we are sure that the school districts we’ve approached are well aware that they are not at liberty to deny us use of their facilities, nor are they at liberty to deny us any level of representation in the schools that they afford to other school clubs — such as fliers, tables, brochures, and school-wide announcements.”
Since sending out the requests in August, TST has been dealing with the questions, backlash, and obstacles. However, despite the challenges, the temple is now celebrating the opening of at least two after-school programs by the end of the 2016. Portland’s Sacramento Elementary School club is set to open for business this month. In December, a second club will reportedly open in Tacoma, Washington.
Other cities on the TST radar include Powder Springs, Georgia; Panorama City, California; Taylorsville, UT; Pensacola, FL; Springfield, Missouri; Tucson, Arizona; Capitol Heights, Maryland. In addition, there are reports stating that the small town of Nehalem, Oregon, has also given a green light to After School Satan.Over the past month, the announcement of the Tacoma Washington-based club has drawn notable media tension and backlash. Originally slated for Mount Vernon, the new After School Satan club was moved to Point Defiance Elementary due to the strong presence of Good News. In reaction, as reported by the local news, 75 religious leaders came together to create a plan to stop TST. Many Facebook news-related posts on the subject have since garnered 100 of comments, both in support and against.
In addition, it has also been reported that the club’s proposed opening has been a catalyst for parent protests and petitions. However, the reports do not agree on the size, scope, and number of any of those recent actions.
Despite any outrage or debate, TST was ultimately successful in its mission; Point Defiance Elementary will be getting an After School Satan club in December. The first open house will be held Dec.14. Like all of its clubs, the instructors are or will be volunteers, who “have been vetted by the Executive Ministry for professionalism, social responsibility, superior communication skills, and lack of criminal history.”
In all of its work to promote religious freedom, The Satanic Temple attempts to make one point very clear. It “does not advocate for religion in schools” nor does it want to convert children to Satanism. The organization explains that “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.”