The Saucon Valley School District has settled a lawsuit brought by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for $200,000 and agreed to provide equal access to district facilities for members of an extracurricular group known as the After School Satan Club.
In a news release Thursday, the ACLU characterized the settlement not only as a victory for its client The Satanic Temple (TST)–which sponsored the club–but also as “a victory for free speech and religious liberty.”
“We are pleased that this matter has been resolved and that the school district has agreed to stop all discrimination against us,” said June Everett, director of After School Satan Club programming for The Satanic Temple. “Thanks to the court’s order, we were able to hold ASSC meetings at the Saucon Valley Middle School, and the kids who attended were overjoyed. It’s for them that we took on this legal fight in the first place, and we won’t hesitate to do so again if other school districts continue to enact discriminatory policies.”
The lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of The Satanic Temple earlier this year, after the district banned the club, which it claimed was promoted in a way that did not clearly identify it as unaffiliated with the district; a violation of district policy.
Judge John M. Gallagher, of the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania, did not accept that argument and issued a preliminary injunction allowing the club to meet again in May.
Central to arguments in the case was the fact that The Satanic Temple is a religious organization. Religious groups have been legally permitted to meet in public schools since the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Good News Clubs v. Milford Central School (2001), which established the legal precedent for the Christian clubs to meet but applies to all religions. And since the district allows extracurricular groups affiliated with other religious organizations to meet on property it owns, banning the After School Satan Club was discriminatory, the court determined.
“TST applied to hold ASSC meetings at the Saucon Valley Middle School in February 2023, in accordance with the district’s policy allowing organizations, including religious groups like the Christian-based Good News Club, to rent SVSD facilities for civic, cultural, educational and recreational activities,” the release said. “Although the district initially approved the application, it quickly reversed the decision in response to public pressure.”
In addition to hostility toward the club by some local residents, there was anger over its formation outside the district; particularly after news about it spread online.
A prayer vigil was held near the school district campus by individuals who oppose the club on religious grounds, and a North Carolina man was allegedly so angered by news about Saucon Valley’s After School Satan Club that he called in a threat that led to the temporary closure of district schools.
A news release from Northampton County District Attorney Terry Houck said Ceu “Van” Uk of Charlotte called Saucon Valley Middle School and left a voicemail in which he allegedly stated “I’m gonna come in there and shoot everybody” after hearing about the district’s After School Satan Club on Facebook.
Uk was charged with terroristic threats and extradited to Pennsylvania on the charge. According to court documents, he pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of terroristic threats with intent to terrorize another on Oct. 31 and is currently awaiting sentencing.
Beyond the disruption that occurred after the club’s formation was announced, the district’s handling of the After School Satan Club may have influenced the outcome of the recent school board election.
Although results haven’t yet been certified, unofficial vote totals show a slate of Democrats who ran on a reform platform on top, which would result in the ouster of four Republican incumbents.
Saucon Source asked the candidates about how the matter was handled as part of a question-and-answer series featuring local candidates for office, and while the Democratic challengers were critical of the district’s response, the incumbent candidates maintained that it was handled appropriately.
“It was handled poorly,” said Democrat Jay Santos in answer to Saucon Source’s question. “The district opened itself up to lawsuit and lost a $200,000 settlement, plus attorney fees. If that’s success, then I would hate to see what failure looks likes. The fact of the matter is that we’re dealing with a board who knows nothing about the law and makes arbitrary decisions with no planning.”
“The issue with the club was handled by the administration in the best interest of our community and we support the process and the actions,” the incumbent candidates said in a shared statement. “While the threat was not initiated or coordinated by the club, the club was in clear violation of the ‘Use of Facilities’ policy and thus was removed from the campus. … It is easy to be critical of the decisions when one is not responsible for the safety, security and operation of an organization, but we stand by the decisions that allowed our community to move on from the mayhem that the club had created and the threats of violence that it had brought to our community.”
In addition to the $200,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs the district will pay as part of the settlement and its agreement to provide equal access to the After School Satan Club, the ACLU news release noted that the agreement reached in the case “also prohibits the district from retaliating against TST, the ASSC, their volunteers and their members based on their viewpoint or ‘the exercise of their First Amendment rights.'”
Despite its name, the After School Satan Club does not promote satanic worship among children.
According to the Satanic Temple website, “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.”
“Unlike our counterparts, who publicly measure their success in young children’s ‘professions of faith,’ the After School Satan Club program focuses on science, critical thinking, creative arts and good works for the community,” the site states. “While engaged in all of these activities, we want clubgoers to have a good time.”
Note: This is a developing story. It will be updated with additional information, if and when it becomes available.