‘After School Satan Club’ launching at O.C. school

Capistrano USD school board trustee seeks to revise district's facility-use policy

‘After School Satan Club’ launching at O.C. school
Photo of an After School Satan Club meeteing at an elementary school in the Tehachapi Unified School District in Kern County, CA. Photo courtesy of The Satanic Temple.

The launching of a religious after-school club at an elementary school in San Clemente could lead to changes in how the Capistrano Unified School District treats groups who want to use its facilities when school is not in session.

The After School Satan Club is set to hold its first meeting next month on the campus of Truman Benedict Elementary School in San Clemente. The club is sponsored by The Satanic Temple, a tax-exempt church. The TST website states its adherents do not worship any deity, do not believe in “God or the Devil as supernatural forces” and instead view Satan “as a literary figure who represents a metaphorical construct of rejecting tyranny and championing the mind and human spirit.”

The club is launching just weeks after a Good News Club started meeting after school at Truman Benedict Elementary. It’s one of thousands of Bible-focused student groups sponsored by the decades-old Child Evangelism Fellowship.

The local After School Satan Club was initiated by a Benedict Elementary parent who contacted TST with concerns after her child came home with a flyer for the Good News Club, according to June Everett, TST’s National Campaign Director for the After School Satan Club.

“I like to joke that we're like vampires. We only go where we are invited in,” Everett said in a recent phone interview explaining that TST will only open a club on a campus if other religious groups are operating there. 

“ASSC exists to provide a safe and inclusive alternative to the religious clubs that use threats of eternal damnation to convert school children to their belief system,” reads the TST website. Everett stressed the group is not interested in converting anyone. “Our goal is not to proselytize or indoctrinate.”

A flyer promoting The Satanic Temple's After School Satan Club at Truman Benedict Elementary School in San Clemente was shared online.

After School Satan Clubs have been popping up around the country in the past several years, including one that was launched in California’s Tehachapi Unified School District in Kern County in 2022. 

Everett says they have about nine clubs up and running nationwide and they offer activities guided by the group's seven fundamental tenets which include striving to act with compassion, seeking justice, and respecting the freedoms of others, even the freedom to offend. 

“They do a lot of activities that are focused on thinking about others, or the world around them, like taking care of the earth and taking care of the birds and taking care of the dogs at the local animal shelter,” Everett said. The clubs are free, and open to students of all ages at the school. They are lead by instructors trained and vetted by TST which includes criminal background checks, according to Everett. Parents are also welcome to attend.

This is the first After School Satan Club to form at an Orange County school. Everett said about five students have signed up for the club at Truman Benedict Elementary and she claimed numerous community members have emailed her in support.

An After School Satan Club video.

While some supporters are stepping up, the club’s launch has sparked questions from parents and at least one CUSD Board Trustee is scrutinizing how after-school clubs operate in the district.

According to CUSD, there are laws that govern which groups can use school district facilities after hours. 

“The school district, under the California Civic Center Act, permits the use of school grounds and facilities outside regular school hours to non-profit organizations, including religiously-affiliated organizations that are recognized as such by the Internal Revenue Service,” CUSD Chief Communications Officer Ryan K. Burris wrote in an email to Spotlight Schools.

“These organizations are not sponsored or endorsed by the school district, must pay applicable usage fees, and, per Board Policy, are not advertised or promoted by the district.” 

Burris also said these groups cannot distribute flyers for their clubs directly to schools or students.

Also relevant – the 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Good News Club v. Milford Central School. It established that schools cannot prevent a religious organization from offering a voluntary after-school club on their premises while allowing other clubs to meet.

CUSD Board Member Lisa Davis represents the area that includes Truman Benedict Elementary. At the January 17 meeting of the CUSD Board of Trustees, Davis spoke about the history of religious freedom in the U.S. and how she values religious pluralism but criticized the After School Satan Club and questioned how allowing it was different from the district allowing a Nazi club.

“I would think that the district would not allow the formation of a KKK or a Nazi club under a sense of propriety that neither of them reflect our community values," she said.

Make no mistake," said Davis, "the satanist group is a hate group organized with a specific purpose to mock and demean Christian beliefs. They can very easily rebrand as an open-minded group, scientific group, or even an atheist group. Choosing to brand themselves as a satanic group serves only to express hate."

Davis asked that staff take a “deep dive” into the board’s policies on use of school facilities, extracurricular activities, and suggested creating a new board policy regarding school clubs to be discussed at a future meeting.

She also recommended requiring that a club’s title “needs to be descriptive to the activity of the club” and floated the idea of creating at least an hour window between when the school day ends, and after-school clubs can start.

“While the United States Supreme Court has ruled on related issues, I'm not aware of specific precedent that would stop us from denying a Satan club if indeed, that is where the board decides to go,” Davis said

At the meeting, CUSD Superintendent Christopher Brown, Ed.D., responded that a revision to the facilities use policy could be brought for consideration at the trustees’ February meeting scheduled for Feb. 21. The board is also scheduled to hold a special meeting on January 31, but the agenda has yet to be posted.

When asked to respond to the comments from Davis, Everett said the CUSD trustee “was clearly uninformed about the Satanic Temple and our program.” Everett said TST is not a hate group, does not promote violence, and is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a church.

As for the criticism of the group's name, Everett said TST is not trying to appeal to the people that take issue with it. "We only appeal to the people that get us and the people that understand us, and our goal is not to make ourselves more palatable for anyone else." 

Everett said many members of TST have been "traumatized by their upbringing" within other churches and are looking for alternatives.

Everett also questioned if Davis fully understood the legal issues at play. Recently, The Satanic Temple was represented by the ACLU and won a $200,000 settlement from a Pennsylvania school district after the district tried to prevent an After School Satan Club from using its facilities.

Lisa Davis is a member of the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees. At its Jan. 17 meeting, Davis was critical of After School Satan Clubs and suggested staff consider revisions to district policies about groups for after-school activities. Photo from CUSD website.

Revising policies in response to the After School Satan Club could impact other after-school groups. That includes the Bible-themed Good News Clubs, which Sue Olson, the Director of the Orange Coast Chapter of CEF, said operate at numerous schools in CUSD.

In a recent phone interview, Olson said requiring an hour-long buffer between school letting out and when after-school activities could start “would be terrible.”

“If they ended up changing the start times it would be really difficult. Nobody’s going to bring their kids back [to campus]," Olson said. 

"We’re very convenient for people; it’s free after-school care. People love us. We have such a good reputation with the schools,” she added.

A flyer promoting the recently launched Bible-focused Good News Club at Truman Benedict Elementary School.

Olson expressed concern that a denial of the After School Satan Club could also force Good News Clubs from CUSD campuses.

Everett agreed that restrictions on the After School Satan Club could impact other groups. “When they find loopholes, and it allows the Good News Club to continue to operate, but not After School Satan Clubs, because we are one of the same, there's going to be legal issues. They can't get rid of one and not the other.”

“We will be praying that God will have his way in that situation. That God’s will will be done in that school,” Olson said.

The leader of CEF does not appear to be worried. In a January 22 news release, Moises Esteves, the Executive Vice President for CEF wrote that not a single Good News Club had been shut down as TST clubs expanded.

“Although even the very presence of After School Satan Clubs shows how far America has sunk into moral relativism, these so-called clubs are not succeeding in their goal, which is to scare school authorities into banning all after-school groups so as to oust CEF’s Good News Clubs,” he said. “The devil promoters think they’re clever, but they don’t have a prayer when it comes to persuading parents to choose them for their children over CEF’s Gospel-sharing clubs."

Everett said TST is not interested recruiting as many students as possible and had this to say in response to critics like Esteves. “We're fighting for your right to believe as you wish as well and that includes your right to not like us,” she said.

Her message to skeptical parents: "I like to remind them that it is an after-school club, and it does require a parent permission slip."

"So for the parents that want to send their children to this club, they have that choice. And for the other parents that don't want to, they can send their kids to the evangelical club or no club at all."

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