The Satanic Temple has singled out an elementary school in Springfield, Missouri, for a new after-school program aimed at teaching children lessons in rationality and science. And also, obviously, Satan
As we've noted before, The Satanic Temple isn't so much a religious order as it is a cultural vehicle for a secular activists
concerned about the separation of church and state. In the past, the group has sued Missouri (and subsequently, the federal government) over abortion restrictions, arguing that the law should respect its members' genuine religious beliefs about a woman's right to choose
— even if those same members don't actually believe in any supernatural beings, let alone the Biblical Lucifer.
And what gives the group its potency is its willingness to demand the same rights accorded to traditional religious groups. Privileges that most Americans feel happy to extend to Christians suddenly seem really scary when granted to a group naming itself after Satan.
Over the weekend, the Temple announced that it would begin petitioning schools districts in nine states
to open After School Satan Clubs (yes, that is the official name) in elementary schools as soon as the academic year starts.
Among them is Watkins Elementary School in Springfield.
"We’re going to have our own teachers who have been trained and background checked, all of that would be provided to the school district," says Nikki Moungo, who heads the Missouri chapter of the Satanic Temple. "The first step is sending a letter to a superintendent's office. Then the whole process starts where they review our request and whatever they ask of us we will provide."
Calls left Monday with a spokeswoman for the Springfield School District were not immediately returned.
So, why is the Temple targeting Watkins Elementary? It all has to do with an evangelical after-school program called the Good News Club and a groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court decision.
In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled
that schools that open their doors to after-school programs can't discriminate against programs just because they are religious in nature. That would violate Constitutional rights to free speech.
The decision ushered a sweeping expansion of Good News Clubs to thousands of schools across the country — more than five percent of the nation’s public elementary schools, reports the Washington Post
And that, the Temple believes, opens the doors to its clubs, too. Only schools that currently host a Good News Club are being targeted for After School Satan Clubs.
"We have all the legitimacy of a Good News Club," Moungo argues.
The point, she says, is that schools shouldn't be forced to host Christian groups that proselytize to young children about hell and their inherent sinfulness
. But as long as the practice persists, the Temple believes it can use the same Supreme Court ruling to establish a thoughtful alternative in those same schools.
Granted, Moungo and her fellow satanists would prefer there were no religious after-school clubs, period.
"We make no secrets about that: there should be no after-school anything," she says. "However, if there is going to be, we strongly feel there should be balance. To have two sides to the coin, to have children think for themselves."
The After School Satan Clubs' curriculum aims to encourage students to become "naturalists in training" and does not involve indoctrination, conversion or worship of a horned ex-angel, Moungo says. Here's how club's website
describes the curriculum:
All After School Satan Clubs are based upon a uniform syllabus that emphasizes a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious world view. While the twisted Evangelical teachings of The Good News Clubs “robs children of the innocence and enjoyment of childhood, replacing them with a negative self image, preoccupation with sin, fear of Hell, and aversion to critical thinking,” After School Satan Clubs incorporate games, projects, and thinking exercises that help children understand how we know what we know about our world and our universe.
Moungo says the Temple is looking to expand its satanic offerings to other elementary schools that currently offer the Good News Club. The evangelical group's parent organization, the Warrenton, Missouri-headquartered Child Evangelism Fellowship, does not keep a public list of active school programs in the state. That's left the satanists to rely on parents and church fliers to identify the next possible location for the After School Satan Club.
"We’ve got plenty of volunteers and teachers who are ready to step up to the plate, people I would love to teach my children," says Moungo. "We just need to verify the Good News Clubs' existence and we can add them to our roster."
Update, 10:45 a.m.:
A spokeswoman for Springfield Public Schools confirmed that the district is evaluating The Satanic Temple's request to use a school building after school hours to host the After School Satan Club.
"The district's Board of Education has policies, procedures and guidelines in place that govern how school buildings may be used when the buildings are not being used for district educational programs or district-sponsored activities," said director of communications Teresa Bledsoe in an emailed statement. "Granting a request for use of district facilities does not constitute the district's endorsement of the activity, organization, organization's mission, organization's message or any opinion expressed by the organization, its members or persons who attend the activity."
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com