As has been widely reported the last several weeks, a group called the “Satanic Temple” is looking to set up “After School Satan Clubs” (ASSC) in public schools around the country. What should we think of this, and how should we respond?
From the group’s name, one would presume these clubs are teaching about demonic activity. But a glance at their website shows them prominently proclaiming that they seek to teach “based upon a uniform syllabus that emphasizes a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious world view,” and explaining their view that “Satanism is a religion that endorses scientific rationalism as our best model for understanding the natural world.” They don’t actually believe in Satan.
So why not name the clubs “humanist” or “atheist” clubs? Perhaps these activists realized this would not draw the public attention like the name “Satan” would (the actual Church of Satan rejects the ASSC’s methods). The Satanic Temple has already agitated in the name of its “religion” by “creating a gigantic bronze statue of Baphomet for the lawn of the Oklahoma State House, opening city council meetings with Satanic incantations, [and] distributing coloring books featuring the dark lord to schools across the country.” So why do they want to draw public attention and provoke?
These atheist and humanist activists simply don’t like the fact that children could be exposed to the message of Christianity, and appear to want to pick a fight with Christians. They say they want religion totally eliminated from schools, and the group’s homepage prominently displays: “DONATE TO HELP US COUNTER EVANGELISM IN SCHOOLS.” Their main purpose appears to be to try to shut down Christian clubs in schools. How would they accomplish that?
In Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the Supreme Court held that when a school opens up a limited public forum to a certain type of speech, it cannot discriminate against groups looking to use that forum based on the viewpoint of their speech. The ASSC organization seeks to use these forums for its clubs. If the ASSC merely wanted the same opportunity as everyone else to speak their viewpoint, that would be understandable. But their whole purpose seems to be driven by an animosity toward Christian clubs; hence the provocative name.
They are aiming to do that by provoking school administrators into shutting down the limited public forum entirely. As the group’s website states: “Our goal, ultimately, is to place an ASSC in every school where the Good News Clubs, or other proselytizing religious groups, have established a presence.” Group members have said: “We would like to thank the Liberty Counsel specifically for opening the doors to the After School Satan Clubs through their dedication to religious liberty... So, ‘the Satanic Temple leverages religious freedom laws that put after-school clubs in elementary schools nationwide.’ That’s going to be the message.”
The ASSC organization appears to be trying to upset enough parents that school officials would close the forum to all groups (the fact that the group is based in Salem, Massachusetts, seems designed to aid its publicity stunt). If the forum is not open at all, then no clubs get to speak.
Though this would include the ASSC clubs, these activists appear to be fine with this as long as that puts an end to the Christian clubs too. As the ASSC founder reportedly told PEOPLE magazine, “[i]f they would get rid of the Good News clubs, there wouldn’t be a need for the After School Satan program.” In other words, the very purpose of the ASSC is to shut down the Good News Clubs. The ASSC organization, presuming parental outrage, is hoping school administrators take the bait and close the forum rather than allow the “Satan clubs” to operate.
What should we think about all this?
First, school administrators should not be deterred. The ASSC organization would love nothing more than for the school forum be shut down to all groups, including Christian groups. The forum should not be shut down out of concern for this group’s presence (its name does not even line up with what it is teaching anyway). It can be given a place among other student groups, and we can let the battle in the marketplace of ideas play out. Ultimately, neither rationalism nor demon worship can provide the hope and healing offered by Jesus.
Second, we should not look at this as a set-back, but as an opportunity, in at least two areas:
- The ASSC organization is using a forum which is open to all under the Good News Club case. Why not use this opportunity to make sure that children are aware of their right to start Christian clubs if they don’t exist? As one Family Research Council event recently highlighted, let us also make sure school officials, administrators, and teachers are aware of the legal protections for religion in the public school. The forum is open—make sure we are using it!
- If the ASSC organization wants to start a spiritual discussion, whether on the national stage or local school, let’s welcome such a discussion. The group’s use of the term “Satan” gives everyone an opportunity to discuss...Satan. Let’s explain his role in the Bible, his power to tempt humans away from God to our own detriment, and the good news that Jesus provides a way out of that temptation. Even if the ASSC organization wants to fall back on rationalism, let’s welcome an invitation to open up the Bible and rationally examine its claims: that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. He’s either Lord, liar, or lunatic. But nothing else. All must make a choice.
Both humanism (the worship of human progress) and actual devil worship will fail to offer humans a solution to our dilemma of the sense that something is broken, that something is just not right in the world. Only a restored relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ can do that. Every day, we are already seeking opportunities to tell the world this good news before it’s too late. This is just another opportunity, planted right in our lap! Let us go forth and proclaim the Gospel!