A battle involving an extracurricular school group that has drawn national attention to a local school district has now entered the legal realm.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced Thursday that it has filed a federal lawsuit against the Saucon Valley School District (SVSD) for refusing to allow an extracurricular group sponsored by The Satanic Temple and Reason Alliance to meet on school property, which it claims is a violation of the First Amendment.
“The lawsuit 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 ACLU said in a news release about the case.
The ACLU also tweeted about its decision to sue the school district, which it previously said was a possibility if officials declined to reverse their decision.
BREAKING: We’re suing Pennsylvania’s Saucon Valley School District after they banned the After School Satan Club from meeting in district facilities and violated their First Amendment rights.— ACLU (@ACLU) March 30, 2023
“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, in the news release about the suit. “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.”
The suit seeks “emergency and permanent injunctive relief against the district” as well as unspecified monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.
District officials first announced the After School Satan Club’s formation in late February, after approving the club to begin meeting at Saucon Valley Middle School on March 8. A furor quickly erupted online, and as news coverage of the public’s reaction to the club grew, a threat that referenced the club was made against the district that resulted in a total shutdown of the campus between Feb. 21 and Feb. 23.
A 20-year-old North Carolina man allegedly angered by news about the club was later charged with making the threat, which according to district officials played no role in the decision to rescind approval.
Rather, Vlasaty said the club’s approval was rescinded because its organizers allegedly violated district requirements outlined in school board Policy 707, which governs the use of school facilities by community and other outside groups.
Approval was withdrawn for an alleged violation of the policy’s Advertisement Limitation, which Vlasaty said requires “that when advertising or promoting activities…community groups shall clearly communicate that the activities are not being sponsored by the school district.”
She said the decsion was made “after the district received evidence that advertisements, social media posts and the like violated this policy.”
In their news release about the lawsuit, ACLU officials challenged those assertions.
“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 release said. “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.”
According to The Satanic Temple, permission for After School Satan clubs to meet is only sought in school districts where “other religious groups are operating on campus.”
The Satanic Temple website says the After School Satan Club “focuses on science, critical thinking, creative arts and good works for the community” and “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” and “publicly measure their success in young children’s ‘professions of faith.'”
The full 37-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, may be viewed online here.
Saucon Source reached out to Saucon Valley superintendent Jaime Vlasaty to request comment on the suit. District officials typically do not comment on pending litigation, however if comments are received this story will be updated to include them.
The Saucon Valley School District currently enrolls approximately 2,000 children from Hellertown borough and Lower Saucon Township.