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Federal Judge Says Saucon Valley School District Must Allow After School Satan Club Meetings | WDIY Local News

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The Satanic Temple

A federal judge says a local school district must allow an After School Satan Club to use its facilities for meetings.

In a ruling on Monday, Judge John Gallagher of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued a preliminary injunction ordering the Saucon Valley School District to allow the After School Satan Club to meet on three previously agreed-upon dates at Saucon Valley Middle School during the current school year.

This is keeping in line with a previous agreement made between the district and the club’s sponsor, The Satanic Temple, on Feb. 16.

Saucon Valley Superintendent Jaime Vlasaty rescinded that agreement later that month, after a threat referencing the After School Satan Club was made against the district.

A North Carolina man, Ceu “Van” Uk, is alleged to have left a voicemail at the middle school threatening to “come in there and shoot everybody.”

The district closed schools on Feb. 22 as a result of the threat.

Saucon Valley claimed that the club’s facility use approval had been revoked after it violated the district’s advertising policies, called Policy 707, on several social media posts.

The district said these posts, which were called to its attention after the threat, made it appear as though Saucon Valley was sponsoring the After School Satan Club.

However, the ACLU filed suit on behalf of the club and The Satanic Temple, saying the district violated the First Amendment and gave a “heckler’s veto” to members of the public who disliked the group’s religious viewpoint.

In his ruling, Gallagher said Saucon Valley’s decision to revoke the After School Satan Club’s usage “was based on The Satanic Temple’s controversial views on religion and the community’s negative reactions thereto.”

He also said the record indicates that the district’s decision, “was motivated by unconstitutional considerations unrelated to Policy 707.”

Gallagher did deny The Satanic Temple’s request to require the Saucon Valley School District to distribute After School Satan Club permission slips to students.

Additionally, the judge wrote that the record “casts doubt on whether (The Satanic Temple) even actually violated Policy 707,” saying that “even the district’s official statements reveal the decision to rescind approval of (The Satanic Temple)'s application was based on its controversial viewpoint.”

Gallagher's filing also said evidence suggested Saucon Valley enforced Policy 707 against The Satanic Temple in an inconsistent manner when compared to other non-sponsored community groups.

He added that “the record does not support the District’s argument that negative public backlash and criticism was caused by a mistaken belief that District sponsored (the After School Satan Club).”

The ruling said Saucon Valley’s administrators faced the “unenviable responsibility of responding to hostile community outrage to the District’s approval of (The Satanic Temple)’s request, and to a shooting threat,” but still engaged in an “unconstitutional suppression of speech.”

“When confronted with a challenge to free speech, the government’s first instinct must be to forward expression rather than quash it,” Gallagher wrote. “Particularly when the content is controversial or inconvenient.

“Nothing less is consistent with the expressed purpose of American government to secure the core, innate rights of its people.

“Here, although The Satanic Temple, Inc.’s objectors may challenge the sanctity of this controversially named organization, the sanctity of the First Amendment’s protections must prevail.”

Gallagher did deny The Satanic Temple’s request to require the Saucon Valley School District to distribute After School Satan Club permission slips to students.

Sara Rose, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said the ruling prevented the district from continuing its “brazen discrimination.”

“This ruling sends a powerful message that the First Amendment protects the viewpoints and beliefs of all people and faiths,” Rose said in a statement.

“When a school district opens up its facilities, it cannot discriminate based on religious beliefs. This ruling reinforces the principle of equal access and ensures that all views have a fair opportunity to be expressed.”

In its previous lawsuit, The Satanic Temple said it does not worship Satan, writing that “Satan is instead regarded as a literary figure who represents a metaphorical construct of rejecting tyranny, championing the human mind and spirit, and seeking justice and egalitarianism for all.”

(Original air-date: 5/1/23)

Sarit "Siri" Laschinsky is WDIY's News and Public Affairs Director.
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