A Pennsylvania school district violated the First Amendment rights of an after-school satanist club by banning its members from gathering for regular meetings on school grounds, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued in a complaint filed Thursday.
The ACLU is representing The Satanic Temple, Inc. (TST) in its suit against the Saucon Valley School District of eastern Pennsylvania.
TST is a “non-theistic, religious not-for-profit corporation” recognized as a “church” by the Internal Revenue Service for tax purposes. The organization claims a membership of upwards of 700,000 people, and has congregations in all American states, including Pennsylvania.
The case centers on the school district’s rejection of an application by the After School Satan Club, which is sponsored by TST, to host regular gatherings in school district facilities specially designated for extracurricular gatherings, including those hosted by various religious groups. Initially, the school district approved the application, telling concerned community members that the school district was bound by law not to discriminate against groups wishing to use district facilities.
According to the complaint, the district faced pressure from the community, and ultimately rescinded this decision, claiming the club had failed to make adequately clear in permission slips that it was not sponsored by the school district. The ACLU argues that this was factually erroneous, and that the decision was ultimately made on the basis of TST’s viewpoint and religion, in contravention of its constitutional rights. “Under the First Amendment, the District can no more deny the ASSC access to its facilities than it could eject an after-school Muslim or Jewish club, or the [ed: Christian] Good News Club, from District schools due to SVSD officials’ own bias or due to disruption caused by those who oppose the religion or viewpoint of the clubs,” the complaint states.
TST seeks a declaratory judgment that the school district’s treatment of the satanic after-school club was in violation of both the US and Pennsylvania constitutions, as well as permanent injunctive relief ensuring that the club will have access to school district facilities going forward.
According to the court documents, despite its name, TST does not in fact worship the devil, instead regarding Satan as a “literary figure who represents a metaphorical construct of rejecting tyranny, championing the human mind and spirit, and seeking justice and egalitarianism for all,” the complaint states. “The ASSC is open to all students and offers programming — such as community service projects, games, nature-based activities, and arts and crafts — inspired by, and aligned with, the Satanic virtues of benevolence, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, creative expression, personal sovereignty, and compassion,” according to case information provided on the ACLU’s website.