The After School Satan Club held its first meeting Thursday night at B.M. Williams Primary School in Chesapeake, Virginia, according to the Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.
ACLU of Virginia touted the meeting as a victory for free speech and religious liberty, despite efforts to shut down the club and prevent it from getting equal access to school facilities, according to a news release.
Chesapeake Public School officials authorized a Christian club, the Good News Club, in September to hold after-school meetings at B.M. Williams, according to ACLU of Virginia. The news prompted area parents to contact The Satanic Temple, which sponsors the After School Satan Club (ASSC), to bring an alternative program to the school.
ASSC “does not believe in introducing religion into public schools and will only open a club if other religious groups are operating on campus,” according to The Satanic Temple. It said “ASSC exists to provide a safe and inclusive alternative to the religious clubs that use threats of eternal damnation to convert school children to their belief system.”
Eric Koss applied last year to hold ASSC meetings at the school and the state ACLU chapter said the club has since faced discrimination and illegal conditions at every turn. Dozens of commenters at a school board meeting last year spoke out against the club and the ASSC was charged a facility-use fee when the Good News Club was not, according to ACLU of Virginia.
“Under the First Amendment, the government can’t treat one religious group less favorably than another,” said Matthew Callahan, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Virginia.
School officials have since agreed to refund The Satanic Temple for “illegally imposed facility-use charges,” according to the state ACLU chapter.
“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,” Callahan said.
WVEC-TV reported nine students participated in the club’s first meeting Thursday.
“Tonight’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,” said June Everett, director of The Satanic Temple’s ASSC programming.
“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.”