The Seattle chapter of the New York-based Satanic Temple says it wants to start after-school clubs at several Washington elementary schools — including possibly in Tacoma and Puyallup — to offer an alternative to existing Christian clubs.
“We’re only going to schools where there is already a Good News Club,” says Lilith Starr, who heads the Seattle group.
The Good News Club, a Christian after-school program developed by the Missouri-based Child Evangelism Fellowship, has programs at several area schools.
A Good News Club was in operation last year at Point Defiance Elementary in Tacoma, along with other clubs offering Lego play, hip-hop instruction, tennis, Spanish and ballet, according to the school website. An online search also turned up fliers advertising Good News Clubs at DeLong Elementary in Tacoma and at Brouillet and Fruitland elementary schools in the Puyallup School District.
Starr says that eventually the Satanic Temple would like to offer its After-School Satan Clubs at each of those locations. But for now, the group is starting off with a request to start a club at Centennial Elementary in Mount Vernon.
“We would like to expand to other schools this year,” Starr said. “The program is ready to roll out as soon as we do our first pilot.”
Starr said her group has not yet contacted the Tacoma or Puyallup school districts.
Tacoma Public Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said many children’s programs use school buildings after school ends. He said groups must submit a facility request form. He didn’t have details about cost or additional requirements.
“We can’t discriminate … on a religious basis,” he said. He said it’s up to parents whether they choose to enroll their children in any of the after-school activities.
Starr said that after the temple announced its initial plans for the Mount Vernon school, “we started getting contacts from people in different communities” about the location of other Good News Clubs, including the one at Point Defiance.
But overall, she said, the reaction has been fairly sedate.
“It’s been kind of quiet,” Starr said. “But we don’t expect it to stay that way.”
Starr said there are nine After-School Satan Clubs around the country, including one in Oregon.
“Wherever there is a Good News Club, we would like to be there to provide an alternative viewpoint,” she said. “We are not there to teach Satanism to kids. We don’t want to convert them.”
Instead, she said, the Satan clubs offer games, puzzles and snacks, along with education about scientific rationalism, critical thinking and self-determination — beliefs held dear by temple members.
The Satan club website describes a syllabus that emphasizes a “non-superstitious world view.”
Club activities are led by volunteers who have been vetted by temple leadership, including a criminal history check. The group also provides liability insurance.
“We want children to make up their own minds,” said Starr. “We are there to help them learn tools they can use to understand the world.”
Fliers for for the Good News Clubs advertise “dynamic Bible lessons, creative learning activities, inspiring missionary stories and more.” They say children learn respect for authority, character, moral values and Biblical principles during the club time.
The fliers also point out that the Good News Club is not affiliated with the school district.
Moises Esteves, vice president of U.S. ministries for Child Evangelism Fellowship, said the Satan clubs are nothing more than “packaging” and a “publicity stunt” from atheists who resent the success of the Good News Clubs.
He said 4,500 of the clubs enroll an estimated 178,000 children around the country and that they are growing in popularity. He cites a recent survey of school principals who praise the clubs for their positive impacts on student behavior.
“The fact is that we are growing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “We are meeting a need.”
Starr describes the Satanic Temple as a “nontheistic religion.” Members don’t worship a supreme being — not even Satan.
“For us, Satan is a deeply powerful symbol,” she said. The metaphor is more “Paradise Lost” than “The Exorcist.”
She said members see the Satan figure as standing against tyranny and injustice. Many are involved in political activism, Starr said, “fighting for those who are repressed, especially by religion.”
Can’t you do all those things and still believe in Jesus?
“Maybe you can,” Starr said. But she said temple members prefer their own path.
Unlike most churches, the Satanic Temple is not a nonprofit group, Starr said.
“We don’t choose to take nonprofit status because we don’t think churches should be tax-exempt,” she said.
Starr acknowledges that declaring yourself a Satanist carries risks — as evidenced by some of the negative comments her group draws online. She said stereotypes people may have of her group are often wrong.
“We have a lot of people who look like ‘Joe from accounting,’ ” she said. “There is no standard dress. There’s no music you have to like. What’s shared is that willingness to take a stand against injustice.”
Esteves is skeptical of the After-School Satan Clubs.
“This isn’t a devil-worshipping club,” Esteves said. “It’s atheists who are trying to scare parents with pitchforks and devil horns.”
He says the Satanists may hope to stir up enough controversy that schools will try to pressure the Good News Clubs to leave.
Esteves and his organization are equipped with a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in their favor. The ruling, Good News Club et al v. Milford Central School, said a school district may not discriminate against religious speech that takes place in a limited public forum, in this case, the after-school venue.
The Satanic Temple is relying on the same court ruling to protect its right to organize after-school activities.
“If they are a religious group,” Starr said, “so are we.”