Note: This is a developing news story and information may change as it evolves. This article may be updated accordingly.
Following a threat district officials have since confirmed referenced the extracurricular “After School Satan Club” scheduled to meet at Saucon Valley Middle School next month, schools in the district reopened Thursday with an increased police presence on campus. The return to classes, however, does not mean it’s back to business as usual in Saucon Valley schools, with controversy over the club continuing to swirl.
One individual with recent political aspirations from outside the district has denounced it, and a prayer vigil planned in response to the club has drawn interest from hundreds of people on Facebook. Lower Saucon Township Police, meanwhile, are continuing to investigate the threat, which superintendent Jaime Vlasaty said is deemed “no longer an immediate threat to the safety and welfare of our students or staff.”
District officials have been trying to reassure anxious parents and quell the uproar, with Vlasaty announcing that she has requested a review of the club’s approval. Vlasaty previously told the community that the “district is committed to working to minimize any distractions this news may create while ensuring our focus remains on providing a safe and secure learning environment for our students and staff.”
The superintendent has told parents and community members the district had little choice but to allow the club to meet, because it is part of a religious organization. A 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirmed the First Amendment rights of such groups to meet on school property, and the district already allows others–including the after-school Good News Club, which espouses Christian beliefs–to meet.
“The District has long-held policies and procedures in place which allowed varied community groups to use our publicly-funded facilities outside of the school day,” Vlasaty said in a statement published Tuesday on the district’s Facebook page.
“This is common practice among school districts around the state and the nation,” she added. “By law, the District cannot discriminate among groups wishing to use the SVSD facilities.”
The After School Satan Club is sponsored by the Satanic Temple, a national religious organization which has organized several ASSCs in other states as part of its mission to counter Christian extracurricular groups meeting in public schools with its non-theistic philosophy.
“The After School Satan Club does not believe in introducing religion into public schools and will only open a club if other religious groups are operating on campus,” it says. “ASSC exists to provide a safe and inclusive alternative to the religious clubs that use threats of eternal damnation to convert school children to their belief system.”
The After School Satan Club organized at Saucon Valley Elementary School is the Temple’s first in Pennsylvania–which is home to 500 school districts in which more than 1.7 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade are enrolled–and the imminent expansion into the Keystone state as well as two others was celebrated by a spokeswoman in a public Facebook post earlier this week.
“Who likes Threesomes? Good. Because I’m SUPER excited to announce that THREE new After School Satan Clubs are prepared to launch next month!” wrote June Everett, who is Campaign Director of The Satanic Temple’s After School Satan Clubs and an ordained Minister of Satan at the Temple, according to her profile.
Everett wrote that in addition to the March 8 meeting of the Saucon Valley ASSC, After School Satan clubs will meet for the first time in Colorado and New York on March 6 and March 16, respectively.
Everett was also quoted in a Channel 69 News story Wednesday in which she said “the biggest complaint right now is that the club isn’t running every week.”
Many local residents have turned to social media to express their views about the club, which are varied.
For some–as part of a religious organization outside the Judeo-Christian mainstream–it has evoked fears of indoctrination by a belief system they believe is immoral.
“Satan is really going after them young!” wrote Marie Haas on Saucon Source’s Facebook page. “Protect your children from this evil!”
A reader who identified herself only as Susan in an email said she was “appalled” to learn of the club and that it “does NOT belong” in a school district where four of her grandchildren attend classes.
And reader Paul Nye commented on Facebook: “I feel sorry for the children that will be exposed to Satanic concepts WITHOUT THE BENEFIT OF HAVING THEIR PARENTS PRESENT. This is yet another example of parents yielding the faith, values and character building of their children to other people.”
Parental permission, however, is required for children to participate in the club, which the Satanic Temple says does not attempt to convert children to “any religious ideology.” The flyer and permission slip circulated to Saucon parents on Monday said “the Satanic Temple supports children to think for themselves” and that “all After School Satan clubs are based on activities centered around the Seven Fundamental Tenets, and emphasize a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious worldview.”
Some parents and residents from Saucon Valley expressed support for those things and said they aren’t bothered by the club, or even that they welcome it as an alternative.
“This is awesome!” said Megan Pesavento Murray. “It’s about time we get other perspectives on religion.”
Others said they would prefer that there be no religious groups meeting in schools at all.
That isn’t the case for Marjulee Colon, who wrote on Facebook that “with an After School Satan Club opening, I feel that it’s important to ensure the presence of the Living GOD also be invited.”
Colon was interviewed by local TV station Channel 69 News (WFMZ) on Wednesday expressing displeasure over the After School Satan Club and announcing that she is organizing a a prayer vigil in response to the first meeting of the After School Satan Cub on March 8 at 2:30 p.m.
According to her public Facebook profile, she is a resident of Allentown as well as Communications Coordinator for the Lehigh County Republican Committee and a former Republican candidate for the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners. On her campaign Facebook page, Colon states that she is a “a proud patriot residing in District 4,” which includes Center City and the West End of Allentown.
As of Thursday, more than 300 people had responded to Colon’s Facebook event “Praise & Worship; Intercession for our Children,” in which she commented that she is looking for a venue to host the vigil.
She posted Wednesday that Christ Lutheran Church on Main Street in Hellertown had refused to host it, provoking some backlash against the congregation from followers of her event.
“The pastor I spoke to called me a conservative Christian and (said) that the values that we are promoting is what could be harmful and cause him to be fearful, not this satanic club,” Colon wrote.
“That helps us know which churches are faithful to God’s word!” commented Nancy Mitchell in response.
Others criticized the church for its prominent display of a rainbow flag to signal its acceptance of members of the LGBTQ community.
“This is the same church that flies the gay flag correct? I wouldn’t care much what their opinion is,” responded Laura Mazur Veno.
One commenter, however, criticized Colon, both as someone from outside the district and for her religious views on the subject.
“YOU don’t even have a child at this school. So YOU need to sit down, shut up, and leave them alone,” commented Charles Winthrop. “I sincerely hope you get arrested for trespassing on school property. Sanctimonious, self-righteous busy-bodies like you are ruining the world, and violating your own Bible.”
Colon posted Thursday that the planned prayer vigil is “not a protest,” but an “opportunity to make room for GOD’s presence to do what only He can.” She said that it appears the vigil cannot be held outside Saucon Valley Middle School or on school property due to an insurance requirement.
A request for additional comment from Colon about her interest in organizing the meetup as a non-resident was apparently deleted from the event page.
The topic of the ASSC is likely to be discussed by the Saucon Valley School Board, which is next scheduled to meet on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. in the high school Audion room. Meetings are also livestreamed online and recordings of them are published on the district’s YouTube channel afterwards. Advance meeting agendas are published on the school district website, along with the link to join the livestream video of each board meeting. It is the school board’s responsibility to approve the use of school property by outside organizations.
With just 2,000 students from Hellertown borough and Lower Saucon Township enrolled, Saucon Valley is one of the smaller districts locally, and somewhat unique in that all of its students attended class on a campus that includes the elementary, middle and high schools.
The district is no stranger to controversy, having once been the subject of both a Rolling Stone article and a nationally-televised documentary about the impact of racism in its schools.