State Senator Mike Regan unknowingly seems to rebut his own argument against allowing the After School Satan Clubs in York, PA.
This past April 19th, the Northern Elementary School Board in York, Pennsylvania held a vote which threatened constitutionally guaranteed rights of free expression and religious liberty of the Satanist community. The school board voted to deny students the opportunity to join the After School Satan Club. The board did not frame their vote in Constitutional terms. But the result disallowed access to public school facilities for use by The Satanic Temple to host an after school club. The board has allowed other, similarly situated religious groups to host after school programs. As the Supreme Court ruled in 2001, public school facilities made available to host after school clubs constitute a “limited public forum” where First Amendment protections apply. Thus, the school board’s vote to disallow the After School Satan Club, while allowing their facilities to be used to host other after school clubs, was a vote to selectively ignore a minority religion’s civil liberties.
Not only is the York County school district host to other after school clubs, but it is host to a program that allows children to be bussed out to an off-site location during the school day, so that they might receive Bible lessons. After School Satan Clubs are designed to offer an alternative to religious clubs that have invaded school districts nationwide. After School Satan Clubs also do not contain items of religious opinion in their curriculum, nor do they seek to proselytize and convert. They are simply clubs run by local members of The Satanic Temple, thus they are the “After School Satan Clubs.”
The school board president, Kenneth Sechrist, made no attempt to conceal the fact that his efforts to keep The Satanic Temple from offering a club was based upon religious animus. He even suggested that if the name “Satan” were removed from the name and materials, the odds of the club being approved would be greatly increased.
On April 26th, Pennsylvania state senator Mike Regan wrote an op ed for the York Daily Record with a headline which reads “Sen. Regan: We will not allow Satan into Northern York County schools,” and which demonstrates that he shares Sechrist’s opinion. An opinion which could be considered legal religious discrimination.
At the beginning of his op-ed, Regan points out that he is a taxpayer. Does he assume that the Satanists in his community are not taxpayers as well? Regan went on to say that: “The After School Satan Club claims that it is constitutionally afforded the right to hold meetings on school grounds because of its affiliation with The Satanic Temple, which has tax-exempt status as a religious organization from the IRS. Seeing as The Satanic Temple has said it plans to file a lawsuit against the school district, I am not here to interpret the law or constitution on this matter. Instead, I write as a concerned parent, resident and elected official.”
Regan indicated that he was unclear on the Constitutional rights and civil liberties of Satanists. But the Constitution, and both Pennsylvania state and federal law is clear: there is no state sanctioned religion, and religious discrimination by the state is against the law. Writing as a concerned parent, or as a resident, expressing such beliefs is one thing. But elected officials are generally expected to understand civil liberties.
Regan went on to say that: “The club can claim not to proselytize or try to convert children to the temple’s religion, but young, impressionable children–whether in elementary or high school, but in this situation, elementary–do not need to be exposed to an organization that has a being in its name that comes with dark and evil connotations.”
The After School Satan Club’s claim “not to proselytize or try to convert children to the temple’s religion” is not at all essential to the legitimacy of the club itself. The Satanic Temple does not proselytize. But why should the After School Satan Club’s members be forced to conceal their religious identity, when the same is not asked of members of other religious based clubs?
Senator Regan, however, feels that the word “Satan” in After School Satan Club is altogether too much. He stated that: “They could have named their club anything, but they did not. One can come to the conclusion that such a choice was intentional in order to cause such community uproar as this latest fiasco has done.” Senator Regan then explained the hypothetical dangers in exposing children to the beliefs of The Satanic Temple:
“In their materials the club states that ‘Satan is a literary figure that represents a metaphorical construct of rejecting tyranny over the human mind and spirit’. Tyranny is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘cruel and oppressive government or rule’. Will students be returning to the classroom defying their teachers and administrators or going home and doing the same to their parents?”
Senator Regan’s op-ed goes on to address the fact that the school district hosts a Bible club. He demonstrates that he fully understands how civil liberties work:
“Sadly, the argument for wanting to bring this club to Northern Elementary is that there is an existing Bible program for students held during school hours. Obviously, separation of church and state prevents a school from sponsoring or hosting such an activity. Students at Northern are attending a religious program led by individuals that are not school employees and that is off-site from school property.”
Why isn’t this same standard applied to the After School Satan Club? The school would not be sponsoring or hosting After School Satan Clubs either. Nor are After School Satan Clubs led by school employees. The arguments he presents distancing the school district from any role in the Bible Club equally apply to the After School Satan Club. It makes no difference that the Bible lessons are held off-site. Non-religious after school clubs also operate using the school facilities, and all after school clubs are mandated to be treated the same. Senator Regan unknowingly seems to rebut his own argument against allowing the After School Satan Clubs by recognizing the school district’s lack of authority to regulate clubs offered by outside organizations in the school district.
The Senator continued on by saying:
“Pennsylvania law allows a parent to request their student to be released from school for religious instruction. This is provided for under Section 1546 of the Pennsylvania Public School Code, and this particular provision has been in place since 1982. Parents seeking an alternative to the existing program have just as much right to request their student be excused for religious instruction of their choice. I fully support every individual’s freedom of religion. I condemn this organization coming after my local school district, wasting taxpayer dollars and claiming to not be influencing children about satanic beliefs. I think we all know their true motives. This country was founded on Judeo-Christian values, and while the separation of church and state kicked God out of the classroom, we certainly will not allow Satan in.”
It’s difficult to logically follow this. On the one hand, Regan admitted that Bible study courses are offered during the school day, yet he also claims that schools have “kicked God out” implying that allowing the After School Satan Club would be demonstrating an official preference for Satanism.
But when you invite God into the classroom, you invite Satan as well. And to place selective limitations on civil liberties is a real threat to all Americans.