Not surprisingly, the unusual if not shocking concept of an After-School Satan Club for children last year drew much national attention to the Pacific Northwest, but it seems the clubs face an uphill battle nationally, based on a lack of success here.
Last month, regional media reported that after less than a year, the controversial program that operated since last December out of Point Defiance Elementary School in Tacoma is now on hold. The club decided not to renew its application for the new school year this fall.
Meanwhile, the Parkrose School District in Portland confirmed that no club meetings were actually ever held this past school year at the district’s Sacramento Elementary School despite a much-publicized promotional gathering there last November.
Seattle’s KIRO-TV reported that, according to Tacoma School District, the club there had only one student — an 11-year-old who does not attend Point Defiance Elementary.
Lilith Starr, leader of The Satanic Temple of Seattle, which ran the Tacoma program, claimed to KIRO-TV that the one student regularly and enthusiastically attended each week. Starr said the reason for halting the Tacoma club is a shortage of volunteers available to run the meetings in the middle of a weekday.
She said the club might resume if enough volunteers are found and that The Satanic Temple still hopes to expand the club concept to other schools in western Washington.
The international ministry Child Evangelism Fellowship, in a press release last month, described the Satanic club efforts as a “publicity stunt” by atheists designed to undercut the ministry’s highly popular Good News Clubs, a Gospel outreach for children at public schools.
“The intention of this group was to target schools that host Good News Clubs, scare the faculty and especially the community so that they would be denied permission to hold their Satan club and with that the Good News Club would be pushed out as well,” stated the press release.
The ministry noted that in 2001 the U.S. Supreme Court “ruled overwhelmingly” that Good News Clubs can take place on elementary public school campuses after the last bell rings and have equal treatment. Every child that attends a Good News Club has a parental permission slip.
“The Satanic Temple erected a 10-foot, 300-pound red pentagram in Boca Raton, Florida, accompanied by the words: ‘May the children hail Satan.’ This is the reason the Tacoma club ended,” said Moises Esteves, vice president of Child Evangelism Fellowship. “Parents know that children today are confronted with many difficult issues such as violence, drugs, bullying and gangs. The last thing parents want for their children is for them to attend a Satan club.”
Karen Gray, superintendent of the Parkrose district, told Christian News Northwest that the club never even got off the ground in Portland.
“The Satan club never held one meeting with children in our school district,” said Gray. “After they had their less-than-thrilling opening meeting, they left the area. We never heard from them again. That’s about it.”
The Satanic Temple is a national organization based in Salem, Mass. Its mission, according to its website, is “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.”
The temple claims to be an organized religion, though most of its members identify as atheists and consider Satan only as an allegory for free thought, not as an actual personality.
The group instead claims to be focused on science and rational thinking, and says the format for the After School Satan Clubs includes “a healthy snack, literature lessons, creative learning activities, science lessons, puzzle solving and an art project.” Parental permission is required of each child who attends.
Last winter, about 40 people stood outside to protest the first meeting in Tacoma, most of them concerned Christians who openly voiced prayers and also offered hymns on a bagpipe. Some were from two Tacoma Roman Catholic churches — Holy Rosary and Visitation.
Also present from other parts of the nation were representatives for the conservative American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, also a Catholic group. Spokesman John Ritchie, who came from Pennsylvania, said they also were there to present more than 103,000 signatures that had been gathered on a nationwide online petition to call for the closing of the Satanic club.
Ritchie’s group argues that the Satanic clubs are a danger to children, because the clubs deny the existence of God, reject the idea of eternal punishment for evil, foster unconcern for sin and Hell, and replace Christian charity with atheistic humanitarianism.
Similarly, four members of the Catholic group traveled to Portland to protest the club when a promotional meeting was held at the Parkrose school last November — the first such meeting held anywhere in the U.S. They were joined by members of the community and a priest who happened to be in the area from Ohio.
At the time, Satanic Temple representatives defended their new club. Jex Blackmore, head of the temple’s Detroit, Mich., chapter, came to Portland for the promotional meeting and told The Oregonian that the protest was absurd. Finn Rezz, the co‑head of the Portland chapter of the Satanic Temple, said temple members were simply exercising their rights as Americans and promoting their personal values.
According to CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) News, After School Satan Clubs are reportedly being offered at schools in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Pensacola, Salt Lake City and Springfield, Mo., under sponsorship of Satanic Temple chapters.
School districts have wrestled with how to respond to the requests to set up clubs.. Under federal law, if a district has a policy encouraging community groups to use school facilities, it must make it available to the Satanic club.
While the Satan clubs here and elsewhere face struggles to get established, about 4,500 Good News Clubs have started up for the new school year all over the United States. More than 180,000 children are enrolled in a long-running program that includes Bible stories, songs, games, etc. Children will receive moral and character development as well as learn respect for authority, based on biblical principles.
“Principals love Good News Clubs, because it makes their job easier,” said Esteves. “As the children learn about God and the importance of loving and respecting others, their behavior improves. Better behavior means better education.”
Worldwide, Child Evangelism Fellowship teaches more than 6.4 million children on a weekly basis in 74,324 Good News Clubs.