Earlier this week, a flyer began circulating online about a new organization coming to Chimneyrock Elementary School in Cordova, Tennessee, about 17 miles east of Memphis.
“Hey guys!” it said on a background of colored pencils. “Let's have fun at the satanic club after school.”
The club was organized by The Satanic Temple, a group that has gained widespread media attention and angered conservative Christians in recent years by sponsoring similar student clubs in other school districts, filing challenges to state abortion limits in Indiana and Texas, and place pentagrams and other objects. symbols alongside Christmas displays in state palaces.
Well, what's really going on here?
The Satanic Temple does not actually worship Satan, its leaders say.
The Satanic Temple was founded in 2013 by two men who call themselves Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry, both pseudonyms.
Based in Salem, Massachusetts, famous as the home of the 17th century witch trials, it calls itself a non-theistic religion and engages in activism to advocate for pluralism, secularism and religious rights, according to its website.
Greaves, whose name is Doug Mesner, said the temple does not believe in Satan as described in the Bible, but considers the concept a “mythological framework” that encourages people to question authority and follow “the best available evidence.” “.
“Satan,” Greaves said, “is the embodiment of the ultimate rebel against tyranny.”
A display sparks anger and vandalism at the Iowa State Capitol.
The temple is open to challenging what Mr Greaves calls “our theocratic overlords”.
To that end, this month he displayed a statue at the Iowa State Capitol that featured a mirrored ram's head symbolizing the hidden figure Baphomet. Next to it was a sign that read: “This exhibit is not owned, maintained, promoted, supported, or associated with the state of Iowa.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, called the display “absolutely objectionable,” encouraged Iowans to pray and assured them that a Nativity scene, “the real reason for the season,” would also be on display.
During a campaign appearance in Iowa on Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida blamed his Republican rival, Donald J. Trump, for giving the temple a “legal footing to stand on” because the Internal Revenue Service granted it tax exemption. status as a religious organization in 2019, when Trump was president.
“My opinion would be that that is not a religion that the founding fathers were trying to create,” Mr. DeSantis said on CNN.
In fact, the First Amendment to the Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and continues to guarantee freedom of speech and the press. Courts have ruled that religious groups can pay to use government buildings and Christmas decorations have been allowed in public places.
That doesn't mean everyone appreciates the Satanic Temple's Christmas decorating idea. On Thursday, someone knocked the ram's head off the Iowa Capitol statue. The Iowa State Patrol said Michael Cassidy, 35, of Lauderdale, Mississippi, had been charged with criminal mischief in the matter.
A conservative website called The Republic Sentinel began raising money for its defense and cited a statement by Mr. Cassidy that he had decapitated the statue to “wake up Christians about the anti-Christian acts promoted by our government.”
The temple justifies its actions based on the First Amendment. Speaking to The New York Times before the statue was destroyed, Greaves said the temple was not exploiting some “unfortunate loophole in the Constitution” by placing a statue of Baphomet in the Capitol.
“This is religious freedom,” he said. “This is what free expression looks like. It doesn't have to be painful if we understand its value. “We should look at this with some pride.”
What is the Satanic After School Club?
The temple says it started the clubs in 2016 to provide an alternative to other after-school religious clubs, particularly the Good News Club, a Christian missionary program. Students play puzzles and games and complete science projects, nature activities, and community service projects.
The temple says there are four active after-school Satanic clubs in the country: in California, Ohio, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, where the temple recently reached a $200,000 settlement with the Saucon Valley School District. The temple had accused the district of preventing it from using a high school where the Good News Club also met.
The Supreme Court, in a 2001 case pitting the Good News Club against a New York state school district, ruled that public schools must open their doors to after-school religious activities the same as any other outside activity. of the school schedule that school policy permits.
This sentence also opened the door, metaphorically, to Satan.
The Satanic Temple says it starts clubs only in places where parents have requested it. It claims parents of 13 children at Chimneyrock Elementary School had signed permission slips for the Satan Club's first after-school meeting there on Jan. 10. The Times could not find a parent who would sign a sheet and be willing to be identified in the record. .
“Satan has no place in this district.”
The club was allowed to rent space from the school, which has students in preschool through fifth grade. In an email to parents, school officials said the club “has the same legal rights to use our facilities after school hours as any other nonprofit organization.”
Memphis-Shelby County Schools Interim Superintendent Toni Williams said at a news conference with Christian pastors Wednesday that she had “a duty to defend board policies, state laws and the Constitution.”
“But let's not be fooled,” he said. “Let's not be fooled by what we have seen in the last 24 hours, which is an agenda initiated to ensure that we cancel all religious organizations that partner with our school district.”
Althea E. Greene, president of the Shelby County Board of Education, encouraged people to pray and “speak vocally.” She describes herself as a bishop and pastor of Real Life Ministries.
“Satan has no place in this district,” he said.
A local pastor, William A. Adkins Jr., said it was critical not to allow “any entity called 'Satanic Temple' to have time – private time – with our children.” But he acknowledged that he wasn't sure how to ban the group without violating the Constitution.
“This is, in fact, what I call Satan personified,” he said. “They put us in a bag of tricks that we can hardly get out of, using the Constitution against us.”
Susan C. Playaro contributed to the research.
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