(NEXSTAR) — After months of controversy, an After School Satan Club finally held its first meeting this week at a Virginia school.
The meeting was held Thursday at B.M. Williams Primary School in Chesapeake, Virginia, though it’s not organized or operated by the school. Use of school facilities for the club’s meetings caused outrage among some local families when it was announced in December. These concerns culminated in the club being charged fees due to concerns over safety — fees that were ultimately either rescinded or refunded by Chesapeake Public Schools, allowing the meetings to finally begin.
But you may be wondering: What exactly is an After School Satan Club?
First, some background: The club is a project of The Satanic Temple (TST), which, despite its name, doesn’t worship the Biblical figure — or even believe Satan exists. Instead, TST says Satan is a literary figure representing “rejecting tyranny over the human mind and spirit.”
The religious organization is well-known for its advocacy, saying it aims to “encourage empathy, reject tyrannical authority,” in addition to promoting “common sense” and “opposing injustice.” The group has made many court challenges to (often conservative) laws that may only protect or promote Christianity, as The Hill reports.
The Satanic Temple is often confused with the earlier Church of Satan, founded in the 1960s, which the Temple is not aligned with, per its website. Most notably, the Temple has protested anti-LGBTQ lawmakers and organizations and challenged GOP abortion bans, saying bans violate its beliefs that only individuals have rights to make decisions about their own bodies.
TST says it does not promote evil and believes “undue suffering is bad, and that which reduces suffering is good.”
‘Educatin’ with Satan’
According to TST, After School Satan Club chapters are opened at public schools in response to other religious groups opening or operating clubs at schools. (The Chesapeake club was opened after an Evangelical Good News Club began operating at B.M. Williams.) The organization says After School Satan Clubs “provide a safe and inclusive alternative” to Christian-based groups that may seek to “convert school children to their belief system.”
TST says its After School Satan Clubs encourage critical thinking, rationalism, creative artistry and science. Children ages 5-12 are allowed to attend with parental permission, the Temple says.
“Proselytization is not our goal, and we’re not interested in converting children to Satanism,” writes TST. “We prefer to give children an appreciation of the natural wonders surrounding them, not a fear of everlasting other-worldly horrors.”
The ACLU of Virginia said this week that the Chesapeake club’s meeting was a victory for free speech, religious liberty and democracy.
“Under the First Amendment, the government can’t treat one religious group less favorably than another, and it can’t give potential objectors or hecklers a ‘veto’ over unpopular speech by charging the speaker (here, the After School Satan Club) a security fee,” said Matthew Callahan, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Virginia.
Many of the organization’s other activities have also caused a stir.
Back in October, several churches in East Texas held a prayer gathering ahead of a Dallas-area Satanic Temple’s “Unbaptism” event. According to its website, the Temple says an “Unbaptism” is an activity in which “participants renounce superstitions that may have been imposed upon them without their consent as a child” — essentially, religious beliefs adults wish to part ways with.
What does the Satanic Temple believe?
The Satanic Temple says it has seven fundamental tenets:
- One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
- The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
- One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
- The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
- Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
- People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
- Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
Though the Temple says it doesn’t have any required rituals, TST acknowledges some rituals that members have participated in. In addition to the aforementioned Unbaptism, there are also Destruction rituals (participants destroy objects symbolizing pain in their lives) and Defiance rituals (participants take a pledge to challenge the status quo in a personally meaningful way).