August 29, 2016

WASHINGTON - Parents, schools and school districts in the United States are paying closer attention to after-school activities since a group called the Satanic Temple announced its plans to introduce after-school Satan clubs at some public elementary schools this year.

Yet the Satan clubs' planned activities - focusing on reason and science, according to the website - also are not nearly as eerie as the group's name implies.

That's because Satanic Temple, a political activist and religious group, is more about bringing attention to what it describes as an unfair after-school playing field than devil worship.

Their name alone has raised red flags.

The group says it is making a statement showing their opposition to Christian after-school programs called Good News clubs which are sponsored by the Child Evangelism Fellowship.

Doug Mesner, co-founder of the Satanic Temple, told The Washington Post that if Christian evangelical groups have a spot in after-school programs, why shouldn't Satanists be able to do the same thing?

But he also said the group is not religious in nature and uses Satan more as a mythical symbol.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court said the Good News Clubs, which feature Bible lessons, songs and games, can meet in public schools after school hours on the same terms as other community groups.

"I don't think the Satan club is interested in getting into the after-school business," said Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute in Washington.

"They know the only way to make their point is to call the court's bluff, saying what's good for the Good News clubs is good for us."

Haynes said the Satanic Temple's request to meet for public school access in a letter to a number of school districts - near schools where Good News clubs exist - is carefully written.

Haynes said on face value the club would likely be acceptable. The "only thing objectionable to some is the name."

Even if school districts provide meeting space for these clubs, Haynes is confident they will not take over the afternoon activities world.

"How many parents are going to sign a permission slip for a second-grader to go to a Satan club after school?" he asked.

But he also noted that even if the group doesn't attract many members, it will still draw increased attention because all groups have to be treated the same and each can send out fliers announcing their programs.

Haynes said some school districts will likely grant the Satan clubs access for after-school meetings and others won't. But if they don't they will have to stop other groups from meeting on school property after hours also.