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Planned After School Satan Club sparks controversy in Tennessee

Memphis — An After School Satan Club plans to begin offering activities to children at a Tennessee elementary school following Christmas break, officials said, and the move immediately proved controversial.

The Satanic Temple plans to host the club at Chimneyrock Elementary School in Cordova, news outlets reported. It will begin meeting on Jan. 10 in the school's library and run through the spring semester, according to an announcement Tuesday posted on social media.

The After School Satan Club's logo, from the Satanic Temple's website
The After School Satan Club's logo, from the Satanic Temple's website

A flyer about the club says the Satanic Temple is a non-theistic religion that views Satan "as a literary figure who represents a metaphorical construct of rejecting tyranny and championing the human mind and spirit."

It says it doesn't attempt to convert children to any religious ideology, but offers activities that "emphasize a scientific, rationalistic, non-superstitious worldview."

Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) said in a statement that the district would rent out the space to the organization per its policy.

"As a public school district, we're committed to upholding the principles of the First Amendment, which guarantees equal access to all non-profit organizations seeking to use our facilities after school hours," the statement said. "This means we cannot approve or deny an organization's request based solely on its viewpoints or beliefs."

CBS Memphis affiliate WREG-TV reports that Interim MSCS Superintendent Toni Williams, surrounded by a group of faith leaders, said at a news conference Wednesday that, "I want to assure you that I do not endorse, I do not support the beliefs of this organization at the center of the recent headlines. I do, however, support the law. As a superintendent, I am duty-bound to uphold our board policy, state laws and the constitution."

"I challenge you not to push away in fear, but to push in with support," Williams said. "We can support the First Amendment and our students at the same time."  

The station says the club intends to have activities such as science and community service projects, puzzles and games, nature activities, and arts and crafts.

It's the organization's fifth active club in the nation, WREG notes.

Campaign Director June Everett said it started after she was contacted by MSCS parents expressing interest. She said the Satan Club can only operate in schools that have other religious clubs. The Good News Club, described by its website as "a clear presentation of the Gospel and an opportunity for children to trust Jesus as savior," meets at Chimneyrock Elementary weekly.

WREG says attendance at after-school clubs isn't mandatory for students at Chimneyrock Elementary, and the club isn't sponsored by the MSCS. The school system says all non-profit organizations seeking to use facilities after school hours are guaranteed equal access. Students must have signed parents' permission to take part in Satan Club activities.

But, the station points out, school board member Mauricio Calvo, who represents the district that contains Chimneyrock, said the board would explore legal alternatives to "mitigate the situation."

And WREG reports that some parents and officials were alarmed after the flyer announcing the club began making the rounds on social media.

"Satan has no room in this district," said MSCS school board chair Althea Greene, who is also a pastor, as she quoted scripture.

Rev. Bill Adkins, pastor of Greater Imani Church, said he believes in the First Amendment but his "liberality is being challenged."

"We cannot allow any entity called Satanic Temple to have private time with our children," Adkins said. "I can't go into the school building and pray. But yet we can rent a facility to the Satanic Temple and they can give a party for children. It's ridiculous. It's absurd."

Parent Reggie Carrick told WREG he felt the school system was letting kids down in order to dodge a lawsuit.

"This is gonna spread like wildfire. If they are able to get into one school, how many other schools are they plotting to do?" Carrick asked.

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