School bars Satanic club from meeting after ‘chaos’ erupts. Now judge overrules them
After a Satanic club’s presence at a Pennsylvania middle school prompted outrage from some parents and posed a security risk, according to school officials, the school district banned the club from meeting on campus.
Now, a federal judge has ruled that the club must be permitted to meet at Saucon Valley Middle School, located in Hellertown.
“The sanctity of the First Amendment’s protections must prevail,” U.S. District Court Judge John Gallagher wrote in a May 1 decision, court records show.
Neither representatives for Saucon Valley School District nor the Satanic Temple immediately responded to requests for comment from McClatchy News.
The case dates back to February, when the Satanic Temple applied to host the After School Satan Club at the school’s facilities, according to court records.
The temple is a religious organization that “does not worship Satan” but instead considers him to be “a literary figure who represents a metaphorical construct of rejecting tyranny, championing the human mind and spirit, and seeking justice and egalitarianism for all.”
The district permitted the club to meet on campus, court records said, and a sample flyer was shared with district officials that said, “Hey Kids! Let’s Have Fun at After School Satan Club!” A disclaimer in small print made clear that the district did not sponsor the club.
Several days later, in response to several complaints, the superintendent wrote an email to the district community clarifying that the club had been permitted to meet at the school but that it was not a “district approved club.”
The next day, an unknown individual left a voicemail at the middle school regarding “kids that have fun at the School Satan Club” saying he was going to come and “shoot everybody,” court records show.
As a safety precaution, the schools in the district closed the next day, around which time district officials received a flood of calls and letters from concerned community members.
“At what point do we prioritize the safety and education of our students over a club that is allowed to meet after school?” wrote one parent in an email, court records show.
“You should be ashamed for bowing to woke policy instead of standing up for what’s right,” another email said.
Around the same time, district officials noticed social media posts publicizing the club that did not disclaim the district’s lack of sponsorship as is required by district policy, according to court records. Due to these posts, the club’s access to the school facilities was revoked.
“Our community has experienced chaos,” the superintendent said in a Feb. 24 statement regarding the decision to ban the club. “Our students, staff and teachers have had to endure a threat to their safety and welfare. The gravity of feelings of instability, anxiety and fear have been profound.”
The district told the Satanic Temple it could apply to use the facilities in the future, according to court records, but “not at this time.”
In response, the Satanic Temple filed a complaint against the school district on March 30, arguing that the club was barred from the school because of “an unconstitutional heckler’s veto arising from community members…”
Oral arguments were held on April 20, where both parties presented their cases and submitted evidence.
In his May 1 decision, the judge sided with the Satanic Temple, ruling that the After School Satan Club must be permitted to meet at the school.
“When confronted with a challenge to free speech, the government’s first instinct must be to forward expression rather than quash it. Particularly when the content is controversial or inconvenient,” the judge wrote in his decision. “Nothing less is consistent with the expressed purpose of American government to secure the core, innate rights of its people.”
On one matter, the judge sided with the school district, denying the temple’s request to require the district to distribute take-home permission slips for the club.
Hellertown is about 60 miles north of Philadelphia.
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