CHESAPEAKE, Va. — In a victory for free speech and religious liberty, the After School Satan Club (ASSC) held its first meeting tonight at B.M. Williams Primary School, despite efforts by some to shut down the club and prevent it from gaining equal access to school facilities.
The meeting followed three critical developments: Chesapeake Public Schools (CPS) withdrew an unconstitutional demand that The Satanic Temple (TST), which sponsors the ASSC, pay a security fee based on concerns about anti-Satanist protesters and other hecklers; officials agreed to refund to TST illegally imposed facility-use charges; and the Chesapeake School Board announced proposed policy revisions that would put all non-school groups, such as the ASSC and the Good News Club, an after-school Christian program, on equal footing by prohibiting the use of school facilities before 6 p.m.
Last September, CPS officials authorized the Good News Club to hold after-school meetings at B.M. Williams. The news prompted local parents to contact TST with the hope of bringing to the region an alternative program that would be safe and inclusive for their non-Christian children. The ASSC is open to all students and offers programming—such as community-service projects, games, nature-based activities, and arts and crafts—that promotes the Satanic virtues of benevolence, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, creative expression, personal sovereignty, and compassion.
CPS policies allow for community use of school facilities, but when a local resident, Eric Koss, applied last year to hold ASSC meetings at B.M. Williams, the club faced discrimination and illegal conditions at every turn. At a school board meeting, dozens of commenters professed their prejudice against the group; several serving and members-elect of the school board did the same in social media posts. The ASSC was charged a facility-use fee when the Good News Club was not. The ASSC was told it could only meet at 6.p.m., while other clubs could meet immediately after school. And the ASSC was assessed a “security fee” due to school officials’ alleged concerns that protestors could create a safety issue.
“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. “That the school district ultimately recognized this and is taking steps to correct these unlawful actions and policies is an enormous victory for free speech, religious liberty, and democracy.”
June Everett, director of TST’s ASSC programming, added: “Thursday's meeting was a joyful, enriching experience for the children. There’s often a misconception about our religious beliefs and practices, but we will not accept discrimination by government officials. Public schools everywhere are on notice that we will vigorously defend The Satanic Temple’s rights and the rights of children and families who want to participate in the After School Satan Club.”
Rather than continuing to discriminate against the ASSC, the school board is in the process of moving all after-school groups into the same meeting time windows. After reaching an agreement with CPS, the ASSC also will be able to make up the meetings it missed for December 2022 and January 2023, and CPS will refund fees improperly charged to the ASSC.
TST and Mr. Koss are represented in this matter by the ACLU of Virginia and the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.