Sunday, September 27, 2020
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After-school ‘Satan’ clubs are popping up

Satanic clubs are popping up in a few places. Not to worship the devil but to eliminate from schools those who take advantage of religious liberty to indoctrinate kids.

(James Shepard; Romana Klee / Flickr CC)

Boston-based education reporter Katherine Stewart writes in the Washington Post that not only have about 4,000 “Good News” clubs popped up in elementary schools in the US, but several Satanic Temple clubs have invaded school campuses as well.

Let’s be clear: While the Good News clubs have a mission of promoting fundamentalist Christianity to kids who can’t even read yet, telling them if they don’t believe in Jesus, they’re going to hell, the Satanic Temple clubs aren’t really on a mission to get kids to believe in Satan but to rid our public schools of the Christian-only crusade launched by the Good News clubs.

As a general rule, schools were prohibited, especially after a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, from barring any club from their campuses on the basis of religion.

So, “Either the Satan Club is in, or the Good News Club is out,” the Post quoted Ira Lupu, an emeritus professor at the George Washington University Law School and co-author of Secular Government, Religious People, as saying.

“The thing that bothers me is every Wednesday kids get out an hour early, which is a nightmare for working parents unless there are after-school activities,” Ms Stewart quoted one parent as saying. “Wednesday is the only day without sports or other activities; the Good News Club is the only free option.”

Constitutional test: Good News vs. Satan

In order to protest what Lucien Greaves, co-founder of the Satanic Temple, and others believe is an establishment of religion by a public school—the only religious clubs that have set up shop are Christian, he points out—the group has applied for faculty sponsorship in a handful of schools across the country. Those applications have been declined for the most part.

We tend to tolerate displays of religious devotion, including prayers before school board meetings, The 10 Commandments monuments in front of courthouses, and so on, as it matters little in our daily lives whether some superintendent or judge believes in Jesus.

But when the Good News clubs start passing out picture books that tell kids who can’t even read yet that they’re going to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus, it starts to infringe on the rights of those kids’ parents. And it also infringes on the rights of our public school administrators, who have more important things to do than serve as a referee for a war between Christian sects.

A few of the books have words, though, including an instruction manual for facilitators. Let’s take a look at something that resembles a lesson plan:

• Prepare two envelopes. In one place a slip of paper with the word DEATH.

• Have a child stand with you in front of class, and tell him or her “I’ve got something for you, (child’s name). You’ve earned this. Just like you can earn what’s in this envelope. Do you know what you’ve done? (Let child respond.) You’ve done something we’ve all done—you’ve sinned.”

• Tell the child, “Let’s see what you’ve earned by sinning. (Have child open envelope and read slip of paper with the word DEATH on it.)

This establishment of after-school clubs by Christian fundamentalists “somehow escapes notice by many,” Ms Stewart told the Education Writers Association in a podcast earlier this month. “Yet, when one rational thinkers’ club or skeptics’ club shows up in upstate New York, people start to pay attention (and shut it down).”

But let’s face it: rational thinkers’ clubs, which have shown up in a few places, aren’t going to draw quite the fascination or sensationalism as clubs that use “Satan” in the name. “Everybody gets mad, it seems,” she said, when the name evokes the Evil One.

So maybe these clubs have a chance. Not necessarily of surviving as a club but of ridding our schools of the humorless tyranny of Christian fundamentalism.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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