Along with a copy of a legal brief its attorneys have filed in U.S. District Court, the Saucon Valley School District issued a statement Thursday in which it disputed allegations contained in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the district last month.
The suit concerns a controversial student group sponsored by The Satanic Temple (TST) that received permission to begin meeting on school property in early March.
After a threat from an anonymous caller referenced the club, the Saucon Valley campus was temporarily closed for security reasons, and district officials later rescinded permission for the After School Satan Club to meet at Saucon Valley Middle School.
Superintendent Jaime Vlasaty said at the time that permission was rescinded because TST violated a policy which regulates the use of Saucon Valley school district facilities by outside organizations by allegedly failing to make it clear that the After School Satan Club is not a school-sponsored group, and the legal brief filed this week makes the same claim.
“The District’s decision to initially approve TST’s application to rent space in the District’s Middle School for TST’s After School Satan Club…was consistent with the District’s School Board policy governing the use of school facilities, as well as the law,” the brief states. “So too was the District’s decision to rescind that approval eight days later, following its discovery that TST had violated the District’s Board Policy’s advertising restriction on social media, a choice by TST that had a cataclysmic effect on the District’s operations.”
“Unknown to the District, TST engaged in a provocative social media campaign misleading District parents and community members, and even strangers across the country, that the District was sponsoring the Club,” the filing states. “This was an intentional violation of the District’s Facility Use Policy, which states that ‘When advertising or promoting
activities held at school facilities, individuals and community groups shall clearly communicate that the activities are not being sponsored by the school district.’”
According to its attorneys, the result of the allegedly misleading information campaign by the Satanic Temple was “an avalanche of emails and phone calls from parents and community members, confused and concerned that the District was sponsoring a club ‘for Satan.'”
The ACLU in its lawsuit against the school district contends that The Satanic Temple is a victim of discrimination because district officials rescinded permission for the club to meet.
“The Saucon Valley School District’s decision to cancel the After School Satan Club in response to public opposition sets a dangerous precedent,” said deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania Sara Rose when the lawsuit was filed. “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 brought against the district by the ACLU seeks “emergency and permanent injunctive relief against the district” plus unspecified monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.
According to the brief filed in court Thursday by the district, a revised Facility Use Policy is currently under review that could make the demand for injunctive relief moot.
“Once the revised policy is approved, which the District expects to happen imminently, all outside groups, including TST, will be able to rent space from the District subject to the revised time, place, and manner restrictions, which the District believes are needed to ensure the safety of students and staff—something which this incident has made necessary lest the use of the District’s facilities by outside groups again interfere the District’s educational mission,” it states.
A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled to be held in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on April 20, and at it the district intends “to show that its actions from late February were not discriminatory; rather, they were to ensure that the schools could remain open and safe for the students of this community,” the statement said.
Read the complete court filing by the district’s attorneys here.