YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Still no after-school Satan club — at least, not unless a court eventually overturns that decision — but The Satanic Temple can hold a one-time back-to-school event in Northern High School’s auditorium.
Nice achievement, from the organization’s point of view?
“Oh, no. We’re going to litigate against them for not allowing the after-school Satan club,” said Lucien Graves, co-founder of The Satanic Temple. “And we’re going to win.”
The “them” Greaves is suing is the Northern York County School District, whose board voted 8-1 in April to reject the ongoing after-school club — which The Satanic Temple wanted to offer at Northern Elementary School — but approved a one-time use (the night of Sept. 24) of the high school auditorium, provided the temple pays $1,260, which the district said covers the cost of renting, cleaning and securing the facility and using its technology.
At the April meeting, parents and students spoke overwhelmingly against the club; many held anti-Satan club signs.
Why allow the upcoming event despite rejecting the club?
“As a public school district, the use of our school facilities by outside organizations must be permitted without discrimination,” the district said in a statement. “The moment we allowed the first organization to use our facilities, we opened the door for every organization to do so provided they satisfy the conditions and application requirements as set forth in policy. We cannot and do not arbitrarily pick and choose which organizations may or may not use our facilities.”
Considering what might seem like a partial victory, why does Greaves seem to remain so entirely dissatisfied?
“The back-to-school night was supposed to celebrate the opening of our club originally, but now we don’t have the club,” he said. “It just kind of underscores the absolute incoherence of the school board when it comes to policies of equal access and nondiscrimination, showing that they don’t actually understand how or when it’s appropriate to apply them. So while you might think we would be celebrating that we have this equal access, it’s actually something that’s not theirs to take away from us.”
But first: What exactly is an after-school Satan club?
Start with what it’s not: something that has… well… anything to do with devil worship, Greaves said.
“Our after-school club was going to focus on critical thinking, science and that kind of thing,” said Greaves, who describes himself as an atheist who views all religions as superstitions. “We always get that pushback where people say, ‘Well, why Satan?'”
Well, then: Why Satan?
“We view Satan metaphorically,” Greaves said. “It’s not up to the school board to say they’re going to allow a Christian club and not allow a Hindu club or the after-school Satan club.”
Greaves says Northern York facilitates a Christian club where parents voluntarily allow their children to be bused during the school day, and equal treatment — based on his interpretation of a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling — would require allowing the after-school Satan club.
Following its initial statement to abc27 news that it felt compelled by law to allow the back-to-school night despite rejecting the after-school club, the district didn’t respond to a question asking to clarify the difference between the two. But the disagreement between Greaves and the district seems to revolve around how similar the Christian club — during the school day but off site — is to a hypothetical after-school religious club on school grounds, which the district doesn’t have.
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“Somehow to them, this is a distinction that makes all the difference, but for us it doesn’t make a bit of difference,” Greaves said. “If you have any after-school clubs at all, those principles of neutrality and free expression take hold and the school district doesn’t have a say as to whether somebody has access to that or not.”
Greaves claims the after-school Satan club — never mind its name — isn’t just about trying to make a point.
“We realized that some parents who were not inclined to have their children proselytized to, nonetheless felt a need to send their kids sometimes to these proselytizing religious after-school clubs because they didn’t have another means to provide them daycare,” Greaves said. “If you’re going to have a religious club that proselytizes towards children, to take one point of view, we will offer an alternative.”
But if this isn’t really about Satan — at least, not the Satan most people think of, which drew countless protestors to the school board meeting — why use such a controversial term? Couldn’t they just call it, say, “the after-school nothing club?”
“Yeah, but it would be that much less meaningful to us, as it would be to everybody else as well,” Greaves said, although he acknowledged “there’s always that balance” between making a point and overplaying one’s hand.
Paul Tucker, a local atheist and co-founder of a group called the Dillsburg Area Free Thinkers, agrees with The Satanic Temple’s philosophy so much that the Free Thinkers will attend the temple’s Sept. 24 event — “some of the members of our group are very into fossils, and they want to present something on archeology and science at the meeting,” Tucker said.
But as for the organization’s way of communicating its message?
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Tucker said he couldn’t speak for his whole group — after all, he deadpanned, how can you speak for a group of free thinkers? — but “some of us in the group are not particularly fond of some of the tactics.”
He said the Free Thinkers “support the school’s science programs.”
“I’m not sure what’s going on right now at Northern is a good thing for [The Satanic Temple] to be doing,” Tucker said. “We’re not trying to just rile people up and get people upset. We’re more interested in having a conversation, a dialog.”
Greaves is confident he’ll win the legal battle.
The school board “gave themselves no possibility of justifying their previous actions,” he said. “They were openly, baldly discriminatory. They took upon themselves authority they don’t have, and they fully deserve to lose in court over this.”
As for the public opinion battle?
“I think ultimately you’re going to see a lot more of our clubs in years to come, and it’s going to stop being shocking to people because as our clubs take place, people — they just don’t have problems,” Greaves said. “After something goes on long enough with no problems, people tend to calm down.”