Public Schools

Dispute over Satanic club in Tenn. school goes to court

  Rob Boston

About two months ago, the “Wall of Separation” blog explored a controversy in Cordova, Tenn., where some parents at Chimneyrock Elementary School are up in arms over a request by the Satanic Temple to start an after-school club – even though an evangelical Christian club already operates at the school.

We had hoped that school officials would come to their senses and realize that, under court rulings, they must give all religious groups the same access to the school to start voluntary clubs.

Alas, it didn’t work out that way, and now the matter is going to court. The Freedom From Religion Foundation announced recently that it is suing the Shelby County Board of Education. The lawsuit, The Satanic Temple v. Shelby County Board of Education, asserts that officials have treated the Satanic Temple’s After School Satan Club (ASSC) differently than the evangelical Good News Club.

Evidence of bias against Satanic club

Hemant Mehta at “The Friendly Atheist” blog has an in-depth run-down of the lawsuit with lots of good background. He wrote that the lawsuit makes a number of claims, including:

* The district dragged its feet on the ASSC’s application to rent space and then refused to pass out permission slips for the club.

* The district assessed the Satanic Temple a “special security fee” of more $2,000 and an additional $250 fee for “field lights.” The Good News Club didn’t have to pay either of these fees.

* The district told the Satanic Temple it could hold its meetings at 5 p.m. – nearly an hour after the end of the school day.

* The district charged ASSC a $30-per-meeting fee. When asked how much the Good News Club was paying, district officials said they were “not in possession of any public records” providing that information. (That’s probably because the Good News Club isn’t paying anything.)

It’s clear that the district did everything in its power to put roadblocks in front of the ASSC. The Good News Club didn’t have to clear any of these hurdles.

Officials show a pattern of hostility

This fact pattern is bad enough, but officials in the district have a long track record of making public comments that are hostile to the Satanic Temple. A few have gone so far as to state that they know the law is on the side of the Temple, but they don’t want to follow it anyway. (Just a reminder: The Temple does not literally worship Satan. Its members don’t even believe in such a being. The group’s after-school clubs emphasize reason and a science-based worldview.)

This case is a sure loser for the school district. Shelby County education officials should not waste taxpayer money fighting it. There’s an easy way out here: Treat the After-School Satan Club and the Good News Club exactly the same – just as the Constitution requires.

Photo: Screenshot from ActionNews5, Memphis


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