Originally Published in International Business Times UK August 5, 2016
This past Sunday, July 30, 2016, Washington Post reporter Katherine Stewart revealed that The Satanic Temple (an organization I co-founded and for which I act as spokesperson) is proposing to offer after-school clubs in American public schools nationwide. The “After School Satan Clubs,” we made clear, are being offered as a counter-balance in schools where evangelical organizations have established their own after-school presence. Of particular concern to us are “Good News Clubs” conceived by a zealous child-targeting sect of isolationist fundamentalists known as the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). Good News Clubs serve to indoctrinate children from ages 5 – 12 years of age into a superstitious paranoia of death, eternal torment, and Hell. Horrifically, they use their after-school clubs to train children to proselytize to other school-children to bring them into the CEF’s counter-productive, magical way of thinking. While the After School Satan Clubs’ curriculum contains no items of specific religious opinion, we feel that the very presence of self-identified Satanists in an environment where the CEF propaganda circulates serves to send a positive message that people can hold differing — even “blasphemous” — religious views without consequence.
The immediate upshot of the Washington Post article was an outpouring of polarized reaction. Aside from the predictable mindless outrage, The Satanic Temple has begun receiving a flood of emails from supportive educators and parents looking to establish an After School Satan Club (ASSC) in Elementary Schools near them. Long distressed by the presence of coercive evangelicals in their schools, these would-be volunteers view ASSC as a long-awaited, much-needed antidote to a toxic religious presence. For those of less superstitious inclinations, the promise of an after-school club focused on rationalism, critical thinking, and fun, sounds like a positive character-developing alternative to the primitive and authoritarian teachings of the CEF.
The most jarring response to the ASSC proposal, however, has come from the so-called “Liberty Counsel,” a group of litigators who claim to be dedicated to advancing “religious liberty.” The Liberty Counsel, recently in the media spotlight as the legal representation for anti-homosexual Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis, first publicly affirmed The Satanic Temple’s First Amendment right to operate after-school clubs, only to completely change their minds but days later. In the Sunday Washington Post article, Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman, Mat Staver, stated, “[A]fter-school Satanic clubs… have a First Amendment right to meet.” By August 02, 2016, Liberty Counsel released a press statement quoting Staver saying, “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.”
The Liberty Counsel, it turns out, was instrumental in establishing the presence of Good News Clubs in public schools, arguing to the Supreme Court in 2001 that prohibitions against religious speech constituted viewpoint discrimination. Framing the argument as a Free Speech issue, rather than an Establishment Clause issue, the Liberty Counsel ensured that religious after-school clubs would be treated no different from secular clubs. Of course, religious clubs don’t enjoy any preference over secular clubs, which makes some of the Liberty Counsel’s arguments against our religious legitimacy somewhat perplexing, to say the least. The Liberty Counsel, suddenly desperate to prevent us from entering schools on their precedent, now insists that The Satanic Temple is not a “real” religious organization (without qualifying their definition of “religion”). I’m almost embarrassed for the Liberty Counsel now when I’m made to point out a fact that any competent lawyer should have recognized immediately: Our status as a “religion” is irrelevant to our First Amendment right to operate an after-school club, and it was the Liberty Counsel themselves who made it so. We begin to see now that Liberty Counsel possibly never grasped the ramifications of the battle that they have so stridently fought in favor of “religious liberty.”
Be that as it may, however, The Satanic Temple is every bit a religious organization, albeit an atheistic one (like Confucianism, Jainism, and atheistic Buddhism to name a few) with a set of ethics, body of symbolism, and community of shared cultural identity. Satanism means at least as much to our world-view as any literalist superstition might to adherents of theistic creeds. That a self-proclaimed “religious liberty” organization would question our right to assemble, organize, or identify religiously in any way we see fit makes a mockery of their own stated mission.
Further, the Liberty Counsel attempts to build a case for abridging The Satanic Temple’s First Amendment rights on the grounds that we allegedly, “only” care about opposing the Good News Clubs, and are, therefore, somehow “disruptive.” In fact, the ASSC curriculum makes no mention of the Good News Clubs and are specifically designed only with the purpose of positively influencing the participating children. Casting the ASSC in “mere” opposition to the Good News Clubs makes exactly as much sense as casting the Good News Clubs in opposition to secular schooling. If ASSC could be denied for its oppositional stance to the CEF, so too could the Good News Clubs be denied school access for the numerous statements made by the CEF regarding the evils of secular education. The presence of Good News Clubs in public schools created a need for ASSCs in exactly the same way the CEF believes secular education created a need for the Good News Clubs. Again, I’m embarrassed for the Liberty Counsel that this basic fact needs to be clarified for them.
Of course, what the Liberty Counsel has already so ineloquently done, in their blind, sputtering uproar against ASSC, is lay bare their craven hypocrisy. When Liberty Counsel speaks of “religious liberty”, they apparently mean the precise opposite, and now nobody can believe, with any intellectual honesty, that the Liberty Counsel represents anything but their own specific theocratic agenda.
The future of ASSC remains promising, and there are no legally sound options for denying us access to public school facilities. The Liberty Counsel, on the other hand, appears poised to fall upon its own sword. It’s been an honor to serve them this long-needed lesson.
See you in school.