Is Satanic Temple right to sue PA elementary school for denying student club?
- On April 24, 2022, The Satanic Temple filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s Northern Elementary School for denying their after school student clubs. School officials noted if “Satan” was removed from their name, the organization would have better chances of becoming a club.
- The Satanic Temple’s mission statement is to “encourage benevolence and empathy, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense, oppose injustice, and undertake noble pursuits.” Their organization is regularly confused with the Church of Satan, but the Satanic Temple “dismisses [it] as irrelevant and inactive.”
- Four After School Satan Clubs reside in the US with headquarters in Salem, Massachusetts. A club in Portland, Oregon was approved in 2016, while another officially started in January 2022 in Moline, Illinois.
- A court case in 2011, Good News Club v. Milford Central School, ruled that the First Amendment allowed a religious group in New York to use public school facilities on the grounds of past discrimination.
- The First Amendment of the US Constitution reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
There is no neutral ground--every school lesson plan or club perpetuates some worldview or another. It's up to a school board and its taxpaying members, made of adults and parents, to filter through which messages they want to promote to young children and which should be disallowed.
Satan conjures up many negative connotations. And while The Satanic Temple (TST) claims they are not 'interested in converting children to Satanism,' TST have simultaneously said they target schools that host Christian clubs. That's an aggressive, negative motivation behind wanting to join schools. Parents wouldn't allow a pro-Hitler or Anti-Israel club to exist on campus (elementary or otherwise). It begs the question, why does a club that claims to promote 'free inquiry and rationalism' (something the religious exercise too) have to be sponsored by TST? Whether intended or not, Satanism can lead children down ideologically dangerous and dark paths thanks to the widespread internet access children now have at their fingertips. Parents and teachers have an obligation and responsibility to protect children's innocence.
This goes beyond First Amendment issues, which apply primarily to American adults, not children, whose speech is severely limited, especially in the school setting. There are and have always been reasonable limits on free speech. Schools don't exist to protect the free speech concerns of outside groups like TST; instead, schools should focus on instilling the basics of education and upholding the wholesome Judeo-Christian values that built Western Civilization. Even though some parents have voiced their opposition to TST getting their clubs entering elementary campuses, time will tell if the lawsuit will make their goals a reality in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
The PA elementary school board is wrong to deny The Satanic Temple the right to open an after-school club. First of all, there are numerous after-school clubs in the US with varying names and missions, and denying The Satanic Temple the right to operate after school hours is nothing more than blatant discrimination. More importantly, as Matthew Kezhaya, the general counsel for The Satanic Temple, points out, the denial violates the First Amendment. The school board has given no reason for the ban, and its decision appears to have been made based solely on the perceptions of parents about the organization and its name.
There are many types of school clubs, all with their own mission and vision but none advocate violence, voodoo, death, or harm to others. And neither does The Satanic Temple. In fact, many would be surprised to learn that the organization doesn't even believe in a personal Satan. Their affiliation with the idea of Satan is as 'a symbol of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty even in the face of insurmountable odds.'
Perhaps if the school board had made more effort to understand what The Satanic Temple would offer in its after-school program, they would never have made such a decision. The after-school club's mission is for students to focus on 'free inquiry and rationalism, the scientific basis for which we know what we know about the world around us.' Further, the group states that they 'prefer to give children an appreciation of the natural wonders surrounding them, not a fear of everlasting other-worldly horrors.' There is no reason this club should not be offered to kids.