When Congress passed the Equal Access Act of 1984, evangelical Christians were thrilled. It meant the government couldn’t stop the formation of after-school Bible clubs at public schools throughout the country — they had the right to use public school space just like any other club. The late Jerry Falwell was ecstatic, saying, “We knew we couldn’t win on school prayer, but ‘equal access’ gets us what we wanted all along.”
That decision, however, eventually opened the door to Gay-Straight Alliance and Secular Student Alliance groups, an unintended consequence of the law Christians fought so hard to pass.
Now it’s happening again.
Since 2001, when a Supreme Court decision said public schools with “limited public forums” couldn’t discriminate on the basis of religion, Christians have been forming Good News Clubs at elementary schools. These groups, sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship, aim to spread fundamentalist Christianity to little kids (before they’re old enough to think critically). By 2011, they were in an astonishing 5% of the nation’s elementary schools. The groups are run by outside volunteers and the law is on their side.
A group of atheists tried to push back in one District last year by starting a club for children of non-religious parents called Young Skeptics (sponsored by the tongue-in-cheek “Better News Club, Inc”). Great idea, but it never really gained much traction.
But that was before Satanists got involved.
Tomorrow, The Satanic Temple will officially launch After School Satan, their version of a voluntary religious club for kids:
“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. While the Good News Clubs focus on indoctrination, instilling them with a fear of Hell and God’s wrath, 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.“
That sound you hear is Jerry Falwell spinning in his grave.
Just check out their freakish promotional video:
Basically, these groups will work the same way as Christian clubs. They’ll have outside sponsors, they’ll run a curriculum that’s appropriate for kids, and (most importantly) they’ll only form in districts where Good News Clubs already exist. Because this isn’t just about spreading Satanic values. It’s about showing Christians the law applies to everybody, and if they want access to public space, they have to accept that groups with whom they disagree will be there, too.
It’s a brilliant tactic. If Christians complain and say they shouldn’t be there, it also means eliminating the Bible clubs. When Katherine Stewart, writing for the Washington Post, asked Christian legal group Liberty Counsel about the Satanic group, its founder had nothing to complain about.
“I would definitely oppose after-school Satanic clubs, but they have a First Amendment right to meet,” said Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman. “I suspect, in this particular case, I can’t imagine there’s going to be a lot of students participating in this. It’s probably dust they’re kicking up and is likely to fade away in the near future for lack of interest.”
He’s damn right they’re kicking up dust, and Christians are the ones who will be coughing.
This would be useless if it was just talk, though. Thankfully it’s not. Volunteers are already planning to start groups in a number of school districts this fall. And The Satanic Temple will be sending school districts with Good News Clubs a letter asking for permission to set up their own groups. If any of them refuse, a lawsuit could be forthcoming.
And just to get some of the talking points out of the way…
- The Satanists aren’t asking for anything Christians aren’t already receiving. That’s why they’re only trying to form groups in places where Christians already have a foothold.
- The Satanic Temple is well aware of the shock value of its name. That’s kind of the point. Conservative Christians in these districts will have to decide whether they can handle a Satanic club at their kids’ school, because the only other option would be for the districts to cancel after school clubs entirely.
- This isn’t about indoctrination. The After School Satan Clubs aren’t trying to convert children to Satanism. They want to teach them critical thinking and the power of science. Christians are welcome to attend.
In order to make this plan work, though, The Satanic Temple needs funding to cover classroom rental costs and curriculum material. You can make a donation right here. A small donor is called a “Kindergarten Infidel” while a large donor is a “Doctor of Devilry.”
Just as we saw in response to the Ten Commandments monument outside the Oklahoma State Capitol building, The Satanic Temple has figured out a perfect way to counter religious privilege in a way atheists sometimes can’t (since we refuse to be called religious). They just created a religion that disturbs many Christians and are now asking the government to treat them fairly.
Who knew equality could be so radical?