CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – After being put on hold for months, an After School Satan Club held its first meeting Thursday night at B.M. Williams Primary School in Chesapeake.
The ACLU of Virginia called the development a victory for free speech and religious liberty. This comes over two months after organizers pulled a request to bring the club to the school back in December after backlash and safety and privacy concerns.
“Under the First Amendment, the government can’t treat one religious group less favorably than another, and it can’t give potential objectors or hecklers a ‘veto’ over unpopular speech by charging the speaker (here, the After School Satan Club) a security fee,” said Matthew Callahan, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Virginia. “That the school district ultimately recognized this and is taking steps to correct these unlawful actions and policies is an enormous victory for free speech, religious liberty, and democracy.”
The ACLU says Chesapeake Public Schools’ withdrawal of the security fee (originally proposed in response to concerns about anti-Satanist protesters and other hecklers) was one of three critical developments that led to the first meeting. CPS also agreed to refund facility-use charges the ACLU says were illegal, and changed policies to put all non-school groups on equal footing by prohibiting the use of school facilities before 6 p.m.
“We hope that tonight’s meeting is a joyful, enriching experience for the children,” said June Everett, director of The Satanic Temple’s After School Satan Club, prior to the meeting. “There’s often a misconception about our religious beliefs and practices, but we will not accept discrimination by government officials. Public schools everywhere are on notice that we will vigorously defend The Satanic Temple’s rights and the rights of children and families who want to participate in the After School Satan Club.”
The After School Satan Club was created in response to CPS authorizing the Good News Club, a Christian club, to hold after-school meetings at B.M. Williams. Some local parents said they simply wanted to bring an inclusive alternative for their non-Christian children, and that the club really isn’t about Satan.
“We are non-theistic,” said Rose Bastet, a volunteer organizing the club. “I understand the apprehension behind the satanic name, but he is just an imaginary figure that we look to because he is the eternal rebel that fought for justice and humanity.”
National Campaign Director for the After School Satan Club June Everett told WAVY “the initial shock is always like, ‘Oh my God, Satan!’ We do have our deeply held religious beliefs, which are our seven tenants. If you look them over, it’s essentially, ‘be a good person.”
Here’s the ACLU’s description of the club: “The ASSC is open to all students and offers programming—such as community-service projects, games, nature-based activities, and arts and crafts—that promotes the Satanic virtues of benevolence, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, creative expression, personal sovereignty, and compassion.”
The ACLU added that the club will also be able to make up meetings it planned for December 2022 and January 2023.