Editorial: The devil is in the details of After School Satan Club

You’d expect games to be played at after-school clubs held at public schools.

But games also are being played by two groups who have organized or want to organize such after-school activities at public schools throughout the state.

A Seattle-based group wants to open such a club at an elementary school in Mount Vernon that it says will offer activities that promote logic, self-empowerment and reasoning, and hand out a healthy snack, too.

Following consultation with an attorney, Mount Vernon School Superintendent Carl Bruner says the district will give the OK for Centennial Elementary to host the After School Satan Club, the Skagit Valley Herald reported Wednesday.

The Satanic Temple of Seattle, which says it uses Satan as a metaphor and does not worship a deity, has requested that the elementary school provide space for its programs, the same opportunity that the district already has granted the Child Evangelism Fellowship to run one of its Good News Clubs at Centennial.

Tarkus Claypool, spokesman for the Satanic Temple, told the Seattle Times in August that their club would offer a counterpoint to the Good News Club, which evangelizes to children and encourages children in the club to evangelize to others. Centennial’s Good News Club was brought to the attention of the Satanic Temple by a Centennial parent who was opposed to a publicly funded school providing space to a Bible club.

But the school district can’t legally say no to either club, an attorney told the Skagit County school district. And nor would any school district in the state likely be able to say no either.

“I think that if the school district denied that application, you would face costly litigation that would be distracting from your mission,” said Duncan Fobes of the Seattle-based law firm Patterson, Buchanan, Fobes and Leitch during a school board meeting. “And would ultimately be unsuccessful.”

The advice stems from a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Good News Club v. Milford Central School, that ruled that allowing the Bible clubs to use school facilities was not a violation of the Constitution’s Establishment clause.

Nor can the district just decide to cut access to all outside groups, as that would risk litigation from both clubs and others, Fobes told the school board.

For all the Satanic Temple’s intentions of promoting rational thinking, the best interests of the children are not the leading goal in opening an After School Satan Club at Centennial or any other school where organizers are expected to follow the Good News Clubs.

The Satanic Temple is, of course, looking to make a political point here. And it is one with some merit.

Child Evangelism Fellowship has its own motives in offering the Good News Clubs, of which there are more than 3,500 at U.S. schools as of 2011. The fellowship celebrates the 2001 court decision on its website and boasts that at last it can freely teach the Bible in public schools.

But Child Evangelism Fellowship celebrates only that part of the court decision that allows its programs and recognizes its faith.

The public schools in our communities are perfect places to offer after-school programs, as many organizations do, providing assistance with home work, a place to go until parents are done at work, as well as recreation and friendship.

The religious legal struggles threaten to detract from that.

Such battles, holy and unholy, are better fought elsewhere.

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