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Should satanists be allowed to run after-school clubs in public schools?

A satanist movement has been garnering attention over the last few years, their practices often shedding light on the proliferation of other more traditional religious practices in public spaces.

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    A one-ton, 7-foot (2.13-m) bronze statue of Baphomet -- a goat-headed winged deity that has been associated with satanism and the occult -- is displayed by the Satanic Temple during its opening in Salem, Massachusetts, U.S. September 22, 2016.
    Ted Siefer/Reuters
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Local chapters of the Satanic Temple have recently applied to introduce After School Satan Clubs in school districts across the country that already have Christian clubs. The effort is to counter, what Satanists call, the over-reach of religious education and instead preach scientific evolution of humankind.

Rather than advocating evil and devil-worship, the club meetings will focus on games and activities to promote free thinking, according to Lilith Starr, founder of the Satanic Temple of Seattle. After School Satan Clubs have been proposed in Atlanta, Detroit, Washington, Portland, Ore., Tacoma, Wash., Salt Lake City, Tucson, and Los Angeles, and while theses clubs may also be protected under the US constitutional right of freedom of speech and religion, many parents are not happy.

“We believe strongly in religious plurality and we fight for equal representation for all religions,” Lilith Starr, a Harvard graduate, told the Los Angeles Times. “Whenever religion enters the public sphere, like the Good News Club at public schools, we take action to ensure that more than one religious voice is represented, and that is our intent with the After School Satan Club.”

The satanist movement has been garnering attention over the last few years, their practices often shedding light on the proliferation of other more traditional religious practices in public spaces.

In 2015, members of the Satanic Temple of Detroit commissioned a statue of the devil – goat headed and winged - to make a statement about religious monuments on government property. Meanwhile, in 2014 a Florida school board moved to ban the distribution of religious material to students in public schools, a move that would have affected Christians as well as Satanist groups.

“I think many people have the misunderstanding that we are some kind of tongue-in-cheek troll group,” Ms. Starr told the Los Angeles Times. “But in reality we are a very serious religion, with our own shared narrative, culture and symbols, a code of ethics — our Seven Tenets — and worship in the form of activism.” 

So far only the Los Angeles Unified School District has outright rejected the proposal, stating that the club “does not meet the minimum requirement of having the school’s approval and, therefore, will not be offered at the school,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

A 2001 Supreme Court ruling (Good News Club vs. Milford Central School) may squash this argument, however. In this case, brought by the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Missouri, the court ruled that the government cannot discriminate against free speech in “limited public forum” – such as after-school clubs in public schools.

Still, parents of children attending the proposed school districts are not thrilled. A group of Christians in Tacamoa, Wash., are fighting against a proposal to form an after-school Satan Club in a local elementary school.

“We don’t know who’s teaching it, their motives behind it, it’s not pure. You know children are innocent,” Tacoma School District parent Kiana Simpson, told the local KPCQ-TV Fox News station.

Similarly, Bishop Michael Doss from Deliverance House of Prayer in Tacoma has said he son will not attend a school preaching against what he believes.

According to Starr, the Seattle temple will be filing the necessary paperwork to get the after school club approved by the end of November, when it hopes to start meeting with students. The Atlanta Public Schools’ club hopes to hold its first meeting by Halloween.

“Give them the tools they need to make their own decisions about the world, science, rationalism, critical thinking skills,” Starr, told a local Fox News station.

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