ACLU sues Pennsylvania school district on behalf of after-school club that worships Satan
By JD Heyes // Apr 04, 2023

A lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the Saucon Valley School District, located near Allentown, Pa. after officials denied the After School Satan Club the opportunity to hold its meetings in a district school.

According to The Morning Call, "The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania, was expected; the ACLU last month threatened legal action against the district for violating the club’s First Amendment rights, if it continued to prevent the club from hosting meetings."

Sara Rose, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement: “The Saucon Valley School District’s decision to cancel the After School Satan Club in response to public opposition sets a dangerous precedent. 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The club was initially allowed to meet by Superintendent Jaime Vlasaty, but the permission was later rescinded. Vlasaty claimed that the club violated the school board policy by not clearly communicating that it was not sponsored by the school district, The Morning Call reported.

In February, the disclosure that The Satanic Temple, the organization behind the After School Satan Club, planned to rent district premises sparked a weeklong controversy. The period was marred by school shutdowns following a shooting threat linked to the club. A man from North Carolina is currently facing charges in connection with these threats, which mentioned the club specifically, the outlet's report continued.

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During the week, the superintendent received hundreds of angry emails and there were arguments about the club online. At a school board meeting, dozens of people spoke both in support of and against the club.

In an announcement regarding the decision change, Saucon Valley School District's legal representative, Mark Fitzgerald, stated that the After School Satan Club initiated a “haphazard social media blitz” that resulted in “chaos and confusion." That, in large part, culminated in the threat that caused schools to close on February 22nd.

The fundamental basis for the School District’s facility use policy is to effectuate the Board of School Directors’ intentions that the District’s facilities be made available to organizations of the community for various activities so long as the scheduling of those activities does not interfere with the educational program of the District,” Fitzgerald said then.

“The disruption to the District’s operations resulting from the Club’s violation of this policy undoubtedly interfered with the educational program of the School District, creating a substantial disruption to the education of the District’s students," he added.

The suit claims that the decision to reverse permission for the After School Satan Club to meet in school had nothing to do with board policy but was “impermissibly based on TST’s viewpoint and religion.”

“Pointing to an ASSC permission slip distributed online, the District asserted that the document’s explicit disclaimer, which stated that the ASSC ‘is not an activity of the school or the School District,’ was not large enough,” the lawsuit noted further. “According to the District, it was this purported failure of font size — and not the District’s email to parents, its Facebook post, or the discriminatory beliefs of District officials or others who objected to the ASSC — that caused the disturbance and prompted the threat. Rather than simply asking TST to change the supposedly deficient disclaimer, however, the District banned the ASSC from using school facilities for the rest of the school year.”

“Under the First Amendment, the District can no more deny the ASSC access to its facilities than it could eject an after-school Muslim or Jewish club, or the Good News Club, from District schools due to SVSD officials’ own bias or due to disruption caused by those who oppose the religion or viewpoint of the clubs,” the suit contends. “Under the First Amendment ‘protected speech or religious exercise (does not) readily give way to a 'heckler’s veto.‘”

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