After School Satan Club to start at Tennessee elementary school amid backlash

A new after-school program that aims to promote a non-theistic and scientific worldview is set to begin at Chimneyrock Elementary School in Cordova, Tennessee, next month. The program, called the After School Satan Club (ASSC), is sponsored by the Satanic Temple, a non-profit organization that advocates for religious freedom and separation of church and state.

The ASSC is one of the five active clubs in the nation that are run by the Satanic Temple, a political activist group that uses Satan as a symbol of rebellion against mainstream religions and authoritarianism. The Satanic Temple does not believe in a literal Satan or practice any form of worship, but rather follows seven tenets that emphasize compassion, justice, reason, and autonomy.

After School Satan Club to start at Tennessee elementary school amid backlash
After School Satan Club to start at Tennessee elementary school amid backlash

According to the flyer for the ASSC, the club offers activities that “emphasize a scientific, rationalistic, non-superstitious worldview” and “encourage benevolence and empathy among all people.” The club also claims that it does not attempt to convert children to any religious ideology, but rather provides an alternative to the Good News Club, a Christian program that meets at the same school weekly.

The ASSC plans to host its first meeting on Jan. 10, 2023, in the school’s library and run through the spring semester. The club is open to students from kindergarten to fifth grade, with parental permission required.

Why is the After School Satan Club controversial?

The announcement of the ASSC has sparked outrage and concern among some parents, family members, and community members of Chimneyrock Elementary School. They fear that the club will expose children to harmful and inappropriate messages and influence them to reject their faith and values.

Some of the critics have launched a petition to stop the ASSC from operating at the school, arguing that the club is offensive, divisive, and disrespectful to the majority of the students and staff who are Christians. The petition has gathered over 1,000 signatures as of Dec. 27, 2023.

Others have expressed their opposition through social media, phone calls, and emails to the school district and the state officials. Some have even threatened to boycott the school or pull their children out if the club is allowed to continue.

How has the school district responded to the After School Satan Club?

The Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) district has stated that it is legally obligated to grant equal access to all non-profit organizations seeking to use its facilities after school hours, regardless of their viewpoints or beliefs. The district said that it is following the First Amendment and the board policy, which prohibit discrimination based on religion.

The district also said that it does not endorse or support the beliefs of the ASSC or any other after-school club, and that the participation in the club is voluntary and not mandatory for the students. The district urged the parents to review the information about the club and make an informed decision for their children.

The interim MSCS superintendent, Toni Williams, surrounded by a group of faith leaders, held a news conference on Dec. 15, 2023, to address the issue. She said that she personally does not agree with the ASSC, but she respects the law and the diversity of the district. She also challenged the community not to push away in fear, but to push in with support for the students and the school.

What are the implications of the After School Satan Club?

The ASSC is part of a larger movement by the Satanic Temple to challenge the presence and influence of Christian groups and symbols in public spaces, such as schools, courthouses, and capitols. The Satanic Temple argues that the government should not favor or endorse any religion over another, and that all religions should have equal representation and rights.

The Satanic Temple has been involved in several legal battles and controversies across the country, such as installing a statue of Baphomet, a goat-headed figure associated with Satanism, in the Iowa Capitol, offering mail-order abortion pills from a New Mexico clinic, and suing the state of Texas over its abortion laws.

The ASSC also raises questions about the role and purpose of after-school programs in general, and whether they should be used as platforms for religious or secular education, or as opportunities for fun and enrichment. Some experts and educators have suggested that after-school programs should focus on providing academic support, social-emotional learning, and extracurricular activities that complement the school curriculum and foster the development of the whole child.

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