The Saucon Valley School Board in the Lehigh Valley will now be obligated to allow a Satanists club to rent space in the school to hold meetings. The ACLU was the ones who brought the suit against the school in March, claiming first amendment protections.
Members of the club posed for photos after a school board meeting on February 28
The American Civil Liberties Union praised the ruling, saying that it was "a victory for free speech and religious freedom" for schools to be made to allow a club honoring Satan, though they favor restricting schools from offering prayer.
"In a victory for free speech and religious freedom, a federal court has ruled that the Saucon Valley School District must allow the After School Satan Club to meet in district facilities," the ACLU said.
In advocating for the use of school property for the convening of a Satanists club, the ACLU said that the school had to allow it under their policy of allowing groups to rent space. They said that there were many groups, including other religious groups, that were granted the ability to rent space.
"The Satanic Temple (TST), which sponsors the [After School Satans Club], likewise applied to use school facilities after being contacted by a local parent who hoped to bring to the region a non-Christian religious club that would be safe and inclusive for their non-Christian children," the ACLU said.
They went on to claim that the programming undertaken in the name of Satan was "open to all students" and that it "promotes the Satanic virtues of benevolence, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, creative expression, personal sovereignty, and compassion."
The ACLU further claimed that the "First Amendment prohibits the government from denying access to school facilities based on the objections or reactions of others to the club’s speech or religion. The letter notes that the reason cited for the district’s decision to rescind approval for TST’s application — that TST failed to make clear that the club is not sponsored by the district — is pretextual and discriminatory. Not only has TST included a disclaimer on its introductory letter to parents and permission slip, but other organizations using district facilities, including a Christian after-school club, have not done so and are still permitted to meet at district schools.""The district has now been ordered to allow the club to meet on three dates at Saucon Valley Middle School," local news reports, after the ruling.
The judge in the case, speaking for the US District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania, said that "here, although The Satanic Temple, Inc.'s objectors may challenge the sanctity of this controversially named organization, the sanctity of the First Amendment's protections must prevail."
The judge declined to force the school to allow permission slips to be sent home to the families of students wishing to join the Satan worshipers for after-school activities. This was much of the crux of the concern. The permission slip did not specify that the Saucon Valley school itself was not sponsoring the club.
The permission slip also sought to downplay the club's relationship to Satan outlined in Christian theology, saying that "The Satanic Temple is a non-theistic religion that views Satan as a literary figure who represents a metaphorical construct of rejecting tyranny and championing the human mind and spirit. After School Saran Club does not attempt to convert children to any religious ideology. Instead, the Satanic Temple supports children to think for themselves. All After School Satan Clubs are based on activities centered around the seven fundamental tenets, and emphasize a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious worldview."
Permission slip for After School Satan Club
The district had said that because the district wasn't directly sponsoring the club, they didn't want it on school grounds.
A parent in the area posted on the Hellertown, PA Facebook page with the "fantastic news"
"When confronted with a challenge to free speech, the government’s first instinct must be to forward expression rather than quash it. Particularly when the content is controversial or inconvenient. Nothing less is consistent with the expressed purpose of the American government to secure the core, innate rights of its people," Judge John Gallagher said in the ruling.
A contentious school board meeting in February saw residents on both sides of the divide speak out. The club had initially been allowed to meet before school superintendent Jaime Vlasaty revoked that permission, citing the club's failure to meet district requirements per local school board policy.
After the club was given the go-ahead to use school grounds, a threat was leveled at the school by a North Carolina man. Northampton County District Attorney Terence Houck reported that "A male-sounding voice on the message indicated displeasure with the school for allowing the After School Satan Club to use the school facilities and then said something to the effect of 'I'm going to come in there and shoot everybody.'"
The man who left the voice mail, 20-year-old Ceu Uk, faces charges of terroristic threats. He'd seen a Facebook post touting the club, and had then phoned the school to issue his threat. Schools closed as a result of his calls, and he faces extradition to Pennsylvania.
Local residents attending the school board meeting spoke out in favor of the Satanic club, demanding to know why the permission was revoked. Others complained that the controversy was the only reason it had been rescinded. Still, others thought that all religion should be left out of schools.
The ruling in the 1962 Supreme Court case Engel v. Vitale stated that "The state cannot hold prayers in public schools, even if it is not required and not tied to a particular religion." Now, it seems, that the school can hold prayer in public school, so long as that prayer is in service to Satan.
The ACLU has backed that ruling, and in the 1990s upheld the Supreme Court decision despite the GOP at the time looking to create a school prayer amendment.
"We do not need a school prayer amendment," they wrote. "Every child in the United States already has the right to pray in school on a voluntary basis -- it's called the First Amendment. For more than 200 years, it has worked so well that in spite of tremendous religious diversity, we have more religious liberty in this country than anywhere else on Earth. That diversity would be endangered, not enhanced, by an amendment that would promote organized school prayer."
Yet now, the ACLU is directly advocating for the establishment of a religious club on school grounds, and that school club is in service to the deification of evil. In the Pennsylvania case, they argued that preventing the formation of a religious club on school grounds would be in violation of the First Amendment.
The full school board meeting from February 28 can be seen here:
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