The Satanic Temple, a religious group based in Salem, Mass., has been working this school year to establish Satan Clubs in various elementary schools across the country.
The Satanic Temple hasn’t actually established any such after-school clubs yet. But just hearing that such a club has been proposed has been enough to generate controversy in many communities. The group seeks to set up these clubs in schools that have Good News Clubs, which are associated with evangelical Christians. So far the group has applied to set up shop in nine schools, but only one of their applications has been approved. It’s a request for establishing a Satan Club at Sacramento Elementary School in Portland. That club is expected to start meeting next month.
A 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling paved the way for the inclusion of such clubs in public schools. The High Court ruled that when a school allows any group, secular or religious, to use school property after school it must allow all groups to have the same access.
We recently talked to Lucien Greaves, the co-founder of The Satanic Temple, to find out what the Satan Club movement is all about. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
What do you hope to teach students through these after-school Satan Clubs? Is it about teaching Satanism?
No, it’s about having a club that teaches rational thought, critical thinking. But the Satanism label isn’t arbitrary to that. We’re executing the club in the name of the Satanic Temple with self-identified Satanists being the ones teaching the curriculum.
Why are you only trying to establish these clubs in schools that already have Good News Clubs?
They teach kids about the horrors of everlasting torture as the wages of sin and those other counterproductive superstitious messages. We feel that the presence of civic-minded, pro-social, productive Satanists presenting a different curriculum sends a clear message that there’s differences of religious opinion, and the school isn’t necessarily endorsing one over the other.
So is the Satanic Temple a religion?
We’re non-theistic. We don’t have any supernatural beliefs, and we don’t believe in a personal Satan. So people will automatically assume that the Satanic label is merely an opportunistic, political ploy. But really it provides a metaphorical narrative construct by which we contextualize our values, and it gives us a sense of cultural identity. We feel that in that regard, we’re every bit of a religion in that religion and the privileges and exemptions that come with it shouldn’t be the exclusive rights of superstition.
How have your efforts been received?
We have gotten a massive amount of supportive messages and emails, and a lot of those people who are sending us these messages are identifying as educators, as parents, as even grandparents. I would be very surprised if any of them self-identified as Satanic before this, and I don’t think they even do now. But they understand and have been complaining about the problem of the Good News Clubs for a very long time. It’s really energized people to fight back against this violation of the church-state separation line. Of course, we’ve gotten a lot of the predictable outraged messages, too, and there may be more outrage than support. But on our end what we’re receiving is much more in the way of supportive messages and a whole lot in the way of volunteer requests, people requesting that they can present the after-school Satan Club curriculum in schools near them where they know the Good News Clubs are present.
Graphic: The Satanic Temple hopes to establish after-school Satan Clubs at schools that allow evangelical Christian Good News Clubs on campus. (Lucien Greaves)
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.