Guilford County Schools may be revising their facility-use agreements.
The move comes after a flyer was circulated on social media earlier this week promoting a new after-school program at Joyner Elementary School.
“Hey Kids, let’s have fun at After School Satan Club!” the flyer reads.
The move to host the After School Satan Club at Joyner Elementary comes as a direct response to the Good News Club, an evangelical after-school organization which applied to use three Guilford County schools last month.
In March, TCB outlined how the Good News Club — which is hosted by the Child Evangelism Fellowship, an international, Christian nonprofit organization based in Missouri — had applied to host their activities at Joyner, Morehead and Montlieu Academy. At the time, parents and teachers with LGBTQ+ children expressed concern about the club moving into schools because of its anti-LGBTQ sentiments.
After the outrage, Guilford County district officials told TCB that they couldn’t bar the Good News Club from using school facilities because of a 2001 Supreme Court ruling involving the organization.
“This organization, like all organizations, are welcome to follow proper district guidelines to use district facilities,” said former GCS spokesperson Janson Silvers.
The case from 2001, Good News Club v. Milford Central School, found that under the First Amendment’s freedom-of-speech clause, a religious group couldn’t be denied the use of a public school’s facilities after school hours because the facilities were available to other groups promoting similar issues of moral character development in children.
Now, almost two months later, the Satanic Temple is seeking to use GCS facilities under the same protection.
“They’re not allowed to treat religious clubs different than any secular ones, or they can just accept pluralism, which is not a very difficult ask,” said Lucien Greaves, the co-founder and spokesperson for the Satanic Temple. “It’s not like we’re giving them impossible options here. Once you’re going to allow one, you should be completely willing and expecting that you’re going to have the other.”
Founded in 2012, the Satanic Temple exists as a nontheistic religious and human-rights organization that aims to promote egalitarianism, social justice and the separation of church and state. The after-school program, the After School Satan Club, was started in 2016 and is currently active in four schools in the United States. Recently, a request to host the club in Guilford County was approved by the Satanic Temple but the school district has other thoughts.
A sudden change of heart?
On Tuesday afternoon, Nora Shoptaw with Guilford County Schools told TCB that the requests for renting GCS facilities by both the Good News Club and the After School Satan Club were under review. Neither is authorized to use GCS facilities at this time.
“GCS is currently reviewing with its legal counsel how fliers for non-school sponsored clubs and events are distributed, as well as the district’s obligation to grant organizations equitable access to our public facilities,” Shoptaw’s statement reads.
The school district’s change of heart comes almost two months after officials told TCB and other outlets that they couldn’t discriminate against religious groups when it comes to using their facilities. As of Tuesday afternoon, the district’s facility use webpage remains active.
The “Community Use of School Facilities” reads as follows: “The primary purpose of public school facilities is to provide a quality educational environment for teaching and learning. The Guilford County School System supports the use of public school facilities for civic, cultural, educational, recreational or other use outside the school day provided these activities meet federal and state law, and appropriate local ordinances. Further, those using public school facilities must provide required documentation regarding insurance coverage; individual or group responsible for supervision of activity; current contact information; a list of all personnel to be present on site; and certification of criminal records check prior to the approval of the facility.”
According to Greaves, the Satanic Temple has all of the required documentation, including liability insurance, to host these programs. If approved, Greaves said that volunteers would run activities and games that promote “critical thinking and scientific thought.” When asked why they came to Guilford County, Greaves explained that the organization targets school districts that allow evangelical or conservative Christian clubs in their schools to offer an alternative after-school program.
“Some people don’t care to have their children indoctrinated into this ‘hellfire and brimstone’ thinking, but they saw the Good News Club as a kind of daycare option,” Greaves said. “So even just having something there to fill the space with the kids is very helpful to some people.”
Contrary to its name, the Satanic Temple doesn’t believe in supernatural Satan and doesn’t promote the teaching of any religion. And that’s why the recent move by GCS to suddenly rethink their facility-use policy is absurd, said Greaves.
“The fact that people melt down over the fact that an alternative religious group would have the audacity to come in and offer an alternative club to one that is specifically, explicitly tries to indoctrinate children and to teach children to indoctrinate other people is insane,” he said.
In response to the school district’s possible change in policy, Bobby E. Fowler, the state director of the Child Evangelism Fellowship of North Carolina, Inc., sent school board members and the superintendent a letter advocating to let the Satanic Temple to use school facilities.
“Although CEF strongly disagrees with what Satan Clubs teach, we do agree that the Supreme Court Ruling applies to them as well,” Fowler wrote.
But the move to keep the Satanic Temple out of schools isn’t just happening in Guilford County.
A quick Google search shows that other school districts within the country are fighting to keep the After School Satan Club out of their buildings. Earlier this week, the Satanic Temple filed a civil lawsuit against an elementary school in York County, Pa. after the school board there denied their request to use school facilities.
“You can’t allow these government functionaries to decide based entirely on their preference who is able to speak and what types of religions are preferable to any others,” Greaves said. “Regardless of what they think about Satanists, that is a step too far and that is a greater evil to allow type of authority to expand.”
Given that same argument, Greaves said that the 2001 Supreme Court case does protect the Good News Club, the same way it should protect his organization in schools. And that’s why they’re fighting against school districts that allow one, but not the other.
“I think the big mistake in the Good News Club ruling in 2001 was that they said that categorically denying religion access to the limited public forum was religious discrimination; it’s not,” Greaves said. “Denying one religion, but accepting others, that’s religious discrimination. I think it would be perfectly valid if they were able to say, ‘Ok, we’re not going to have any religious clubs.’ You can do that in limited public forums but what you can’t do is accept some of this kind but not others.”
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