If you’re a Satanist and you know it, clap your hands.
That’s just one nursery rhyme that children in Oregon public schools could soon be singing thanks to two newly approved after-school programs.
On Tuesday, the Parkrose School District formally approved Satanic Portland’s petition to launch a club at Sacramento Elementary, a local K-5 school in the city’s Northeast quadrant. A club was also approved a few days earlier in Nehalem, Oregon – a tiny town about two hours from Portland with a population of just 271 people, according to the 2010 Census.
The news makes Oregon the first state in the United States to approve Satanic after school programs in public schools. The national Satanic Temple’s After School Satan Clubs (ASSC) program has also been proposed in schools in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Tucson, Washington D.C., as well as Springfield, Missouri and Pensacola, Florida. (A school in Seattle also approved an ASSC this week, according to the Satanic Temple.) The Satanist community aims to provide an alternative to the spread of evangelical Christian clubs in schools – particularly the Good News Clubs run by the Child Evangelism Fellowship, which were approved in a 2001 Supreme Court ruling.
According to the Church of Satan, Satanism is an atheistic value system. Practitioners do not worship Satan, or even believe in Satan as an actual entity or person – instead, Satan is a “symbol of pride, liberty and individualism.” The Satanic Temple, a separate group, has made a mission of opposing religious groups that it deems oppressive and of ensuring that religious freedom laws apply to all faiths.
Doug Mesner, a leader of the national Satanic Temple, tells Rolling Stone that the Oregon school boards have paved the way for the other clubs to be approved as well.
“We suspect all other school districts will follow suit this week,” says Mesner, “As we’ve just secured our liability insurance to legitimate the breadth of our ASSC requests.”
But local group Satanic Portland – which is not yet officially a chapter of the national Satanic Temple but is finalizing the process of becoming one – has had an unusual streak of success.
“There were some concerned parents frustrated with the Good News Clubs, and we had a parent who has a child in a Parkrose school who reached out and contacted us,” Satanic Portland spokesperson Finn Rezz tells Rolling Stone.
Rezz says the group was finalizing its curriculum for the After School Satan Club, which aims to launch at Sacramento Elementary October 19th. But the group’s volunteers are somewhat spread thin due to its campaign to start a club in nearby Nehalem, Oregon, about an hour outside of the city. Rezz tells Rolling Stone that the Nehalem After School Satan Club has also just been approved, after the group hosted an open house there on September 22nd.
“We’ve gotten a lot of support and feedback from parents in the community,” says Rezz. “Because we’re creating a dialogue and conversation for school districts to take a closer look at their policies, and so there’s equal representation for other religious groups besides just fundamentalist Christian.”
Rolling Stone contacted Parkrose School District Superintendent Karen Gray for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.
The national Satanic Temple’s After School Satan Club website offers a copy of The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities, which presumably will be included in the upcoming curriculum. There’s also a rather terrifying YouTube video describing the underlying tenets of an ASSC: “rationalism, free inquiry…and fun.”
Not all parents in Portland’s Parkrose School District were thrilled at the prospect of the school’s new Satanic counterpoint to evangelical Christian rhetoric. But what mom Heidi Friesen-Wutzke, whose son attends the school, told local news station KPTV echoed the Rezz’s claims that parents were indeed worried about the Good News Club.
“I don’t know what that [Satanic] group would promote so that’s a little concerning,” Friesen-Wutzke told KPTV. “But I know on the other hand, people are concerned about the Christian group that meets here as well.”
Students at Sacramento Elementary won’t be forced to attend either club – they have to get a parent’s signature on a form to go to any after-school programs – but Satanic Portland just wants to make sure the kids at the school have options and that they aren’t led to believe there is only one way to practice religion and spirituality.
“The Good News Club teaches children they are inherently sinful and condemned to death and hellfire if they don’t convert to Christianity, which I feel is predatory,” Rezz says. “When there’s only one voice, that voice is given extra weight and authority. We’re hoping to break that spell a bit.”