After School Satan Clubs put the heat on LAUSD, target 47 elementary schools
Mike Szymanski | September 9, 2016
Their logo features a wild-eyed horned character holding out a candy cane. Their promotional video features eerie music, children running backward and lots of spiders. They want to take children on field trips to local cemeteries.
Members of the Satanic Temple of Los Angeles are hoping to host After School Satan Clubs that will be targeted toward 5- to 12-year-olds in Los Angeles Unified schools. They want to start with Chase Street Elementary School in Panorama City and eventually filter into 46 other elementary schools in the district where Good News Clubs teach Bible verses and Christian values in after-school programs.
“We want to provide an alternative to what children may be taught at the Good News Clubs,” said Ali Kellog, the chapter head of the Los Angeles Satanic Temple, one of 16 chapters throughout the world. “I think the general public would be surprised to find out that there are 47 Good News Clubs at their public schools in Los Angeles.”
Good News Clubs have existed for 79 years at 77,811 sites worldwide. In the United States, more than 178,000 children go to Good News Clubs in more than 4,500 public schools.
To be clear, the Satanists do not worship Satan or Lucifer, the fallen angel of the Bible. Their courses are science-based and offer skepticism, rationalism and free inquiry, said Kellog, who created the After School Satan curriculum with Amy Monsky, executive director of Atheist Alliance of America.
But they want the After School Satan Clubs to provide an alternative to the Good News Clubs, and they are waging a battle at the second-largest school district in the country, as well as in eight other school districts across the nation. The LA Unified school district has yet to respond to the request to allow the clubs on campuses, so the Satanists said they may speak out at the next LA Unified School Board meeting, and they may conjure up some legal action to force the district’s hand. The Good News folks don’t see that legal interference is necessary.
“We do not have any problem with the After School Satan Clubs being at the same campuses as our Good News Clubs, but we really feel like they are being bullies,” said John Luck, the project manager of Good News Across America and the director of development for the Child Evangelism Fellowship based in Warrenton, Missouri. “If they want to start a club, the After School Satan Club has the right to be at the school. I just doubt that many parents will want to send their children to such a club.”
Without offering specific numbers, Luck said Southern California has one of the largest numbers of Good News Clubs in the country. The organization behind the clubs, Child Evangelism Fellowship, was formally organized in 1937 in Los Angeles. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Good News Clubs were allowed to rent space at public schools.
LA Unified confirmed there are 47 Good News Clubs on school campuses and, after a public records request, provided the letter of request sent to LA Superintendent Michelle King, but otherwise refused to comment about the After School Satan Clubs. The letter dated Aug. 1 came from Kellog and outlined the 90-minute once-a-month club that would provide membership cards and “typically include a healthy snack, literature lesson, creative learning activities, science lesson, puzzle solving and art project.” The Satanic Temple also asked to be able to promote the club at a table during back-to-school night.
The school district said they don’t have any more to say on the matter other than: “We do not have any After School Satan Clubs in our district.” LA School Report is awaiting answers to other records requests involving after-school club procedures and a list of clubs that rent LA Unified classrooms for after-school events.
The After School Satan Club requires a permission slip just like the Good News Club does, and both clubs allow parents to observe at any time.
The Good News organizers and Luck said it’s all smoke and mirrors and that they don’t believe the Satanists actually want to start any After School Satan Clubs, but merely want to get their Good News Clubs thrown out. “They came up with a club so preposterous that people will not like it and get it thrown out and we may get thrown out along with them,” Luck said.
“The reality is that we have been embraced by the principals, teachers, parents and students,” said Luck, who can recount many times when children were comforted by the clubs when local tragedies have occurred. “We encourage good character, to tell the truth, not to cheat, be better citizens and we are not hiding in a dark corner.”
He says Good News Clubs are about spreading the word of Jesus, but it is non-denominational and the groups pay the going rate for after-school rentals, Luck said.
“We are an after-school club, and a parent has to sign you up to be in it,” Luck said. “We are not forcing anyone to be in the club. And, we are not scary.”
Kellog said the After School Satan Club she helped create could involve some scary elements, including dressing up in spooky costumes and visits to cemeteries as well as science centers. “We may look at iconography on gravestones and have the children imagine how they died,” Kellog said.
For now, she’s concerned about the next step with the LA school district. She said she has been stonewalled by district officials and has made repeated requests to meet with King.
“This involves First Amendment violations and getting the same access to the schools as the Good News Clubs,” said Kellog, who said she may soon attend a school board meeting (the next one is Sept. 20) and speak to the school board members during the public comment section. The group is also considering legal action.
At the moment, only one of the eight districts they targeted has actually approved allowing an After School Satan Club, near Portland, Ore., at the Neah-Kah-Nie School District.
Meanwhile, the Good News organizers said other groups are rallying against the Satan Club idea and insist they are not behind a petition that already has collected more than 10,000 signatures to keep the club from the schools. That’s sponsored by the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Property and Family, based in Pennsylvania.
Moises Esteves, vice president of USA Ministries, the organization that oversees Good News Clubs, said, “No one in their right mind would send their kids to something like this.”
Luck added, “They are trying to paint us as narrow, but they are saying there is no God, and I say that that’s a pretty exclusive club. It’s a shame, but also a sham, that they are engaging in this fight.”
Satan Temple’s Kellog said she is eager to refute the concerns that parents have and offer her idea of a fun After School Satan Club. “We want to get our message out and see how many people are interested. We just haven’t had the chance to get that far yet.”