ACLU Sues Saucon Valley School District for Prohibiting After School Satan Club from Meeting in District Facilities
HELLERTOWN, Pa. — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Dechert LLP filed a lawsuit in federal court today against the Saucon Valley School District (SVSD) for violating the First Amendment by prohibiting the After School Satan Club (ASSC) from meeting in district facilities. Although school officials initially approved the club’s application—explaining in an email to parents that the district “cannot discriminate among groups wishing to use the SVSD facilities”—they quickly bowed to the ensuing public outcry, which included a threat of violence later traced to a man in North Carolina.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges that the SVSD’s refusal to grant the ASSC equal access to school facilities give a “heckler’s veto” to those who dislike the group’s religious viewpoint, even though the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from censoring speech based on the objections or reactions of others.
“The Saucon Valley School District’s decision to cancel the After School Satan Club in response to public opposition sets a dangerous precedent,” said Sara Rose, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The First Amendment protects the expression of unpopular or controversial views from government censorship. Once the district opened up school facilities to outside use, it was bound by the First Amendment to grant equal access to all groups, regardless of their religious beliefs or viewpoints.”
Although SVSD contends that it rescinded approval for the ASSC because the group failed to make clear on a permission slip that the club is not sponsored by the district, the lawsuit explains that this claim is pretextual and discriminatory. The ASSC’s permission slip did include a disclaimer, and promotional materials distributed by other organizations, including a Christian after-school club, that use SVSD facilities contained no disclaimer. Those groups have, nevertheless, been permitted to meet at SVSD schools.
In accordance with district policy allowing for the reservation and rental of SVSD facilities for civic, cultural, educational, and recreational activities, numerous organizations — including religious groups like the Christian-based Good News Club — hold meetings and events at district schools. In February, The Satanic Temple (TST), which sponsors the ASSC, likewise applied to use SVSD facilities. The ASSC is open to all students and offers programming — such as community service projects, games, nature-based activities, and arts and crafts — inspired by, and aligned with, the Satanic virtues of benevolence, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, creative expression, personal sovereignty, and compassion.
“The After School Satan Club provides a critical space for students who may feel unwelcome at other after-school religious clubs,” said June Everett, director of TST’s ASSC programming. “By prohibiting the ASSC from meeting in school facilities, the district is sending a discriminatory message to the club’s students that they are second class and don’t deserve the same opportunities as their peers.”
The complaint requests emergency and permanent injunctive relief against the district, as well as compensatory and nominal damages and attorneys’ fees.
The complaint in The Satanic Temple v. Saucon Valley School District can be found here.
About the ACLU: For more than 100 years, the ACLU has worked in courts, legislatures, and communities to protect the constitutional rights of all people. With a nationwide network of offices and millions of members and supporters, the ACLU takes on the toughest civil liberties fights in pursuit of liberty and justice for all. For more information on the ACLU, visit https://www.aclu.org.
About The Satanic Temple: The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will. The IRS has recognized The Satanic Temple as a church under Section 170(b)(1)(A)(i) of the Internal Revenue Code. For more information on The Satanic Temple, visit https://thesatanictemple.com.
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