MOLINE, Ill. — The Moline-Coal Valley School District is facing controversy after a flyer inviting Jane Addams Elementary students to After School Satan Club began making the rounds on social media earlier this week.
The after-school program is run by The Satanic Temple, and will host meetings starting Thursday, Jan. 13 in a Jane Addams' classroom.
The club's facility rental was approved at the Dec. 13 Board of Education meeting, Moline-Coal Valley School District Director of Communications Candace Sountris said.
Some parents and Quad Cities community members expressed their surprise and dislike of the club in the comments of News 8's Facebook page.
"This proves just how lost our country is," one person commented.
"This world is going to hell in a hand basket!" another wrote.
And "the name is disturbing … doesn't scream 'let me send my child.'"
Others don't have a problem with it.
"I love it! Freedom of religion doesn’t just mean Christianity," one wrote.
"I think this is wonderful. All of the pearl-clutchers are getting their panties in a twist without even knowing what the Satanic Temple is or what (its) values are," another said.
Some blamed the district, and some stuck up for the staff at Jane Addams Elementary.
"Kick every board member off that allowed this to occur," one wrote. "Vote in new people with common sense, morals and ethics."
"The staff at Jane Addams are wonderful people, and I'm so sorry they are put in the middle of this for just abiding by the rules and allowing all groups to use their facility after school," another user wrote.
The Co-founder of the Satanic Temple Lucien Greaves explained that After School Satan Club has nothing to do with teaching kids to worship the devil. Instead, he said the curriculum emphasizes the development of reasoning and social skills. Club members will do activities such as science and art projects.
"This actually isn't a club that's meant to proselytize Satanism or even engage in discussions about religious opinion," Greaves said. "This is an educational program meant to focus on critical thinking and just basic education skills."
Greaves said he's often asked, "Why attach the word 'Satan' to the club?"
"I think we'd be a lot worse if we were to do this under a different name and then it came out that we're The Satanic Temple," he said. "I think it's better to be forthright about the fact that The Satanic Temple is operating this and let people know up front that we're not teaching religion or religious opinion."
The After School Satan Club is offered as a nonreligious alternative to other religious clubs, such as the Child Evangelism Fellowship's Good News Club, Greaves said.
The school board approved the Good News Club on Nov. 8, Sountris said.
According to the fellowship, its one-hour programs are "designed to bring the Gospel of Christ to children on their level in their environment."
"We thought it would be nice to offer some people an alternative from that kind of horrific indoctrination program," Greaves said. "If people learn more about (After School Satan Club), there's very little to complain about. We're not going to drag anybody's children into this club unaware. Permission slips need to be signed. The people we work with are vetted. So if people don't like it, they simply don't have to engage with it."
In a letter sent to district parents Wednesday, Jan. 12, Superintendent Dr. Rachel Savage said a district parent had reached out to the national After School Satan Club to share that Jane Addams Elementary offers The Good News Club and asked the Satanic Temple to bring its program to the school in order to offer parents a choice of different viewpoints.
Because Jane Addams Elementary rents its facilities to Good News Club, it's also required to rent to the After School Satan Club.
The CEF was founded in 1937 and for most of its history, Good News Clubs were excluded from public schools because of a concern that their presence would violate the U.S. Constitution.
A 2001 Supreme Court ruling in Good News Club v. Milford Central School changed that. In the case, a district family wanted to use the school's facilities to host the after-school program, but Milford Central School denied the request because it thought the program's activities, including Bible lessons, memorizing scripture and praying, were the equivalent of religious worship that was prohibited by the community-use policy.
The Court ruled 6-3 for the Good News Club, declaring that excluding an after-school program on account of the religious views of its sponsors amounted to a violation of free speech rights.
"(The district is) not there to decide whether we can or cannot do this," Greaves said. "So there's no point in calling up the principal. There's no point in calling up the superintendent and berating them for allowing us in. It's the Supreme Court, and it's our constitutional liberties that allow us to be there."
Savage also outlined, in her letter to parents, that the district was following the rules required of them as a public school. She explained that the club is not affiliated with Jane Addams Elementary nor the district. No teachers are involved.
"Since we have allowed religious entities to rent our facilities after school hours, we are not permitted to discriminate against different religious viewpoints," she said. "To illegally deny their organization to pay to rent our publicly funded institution after school hours subjects the district to a discrimination lawsuit, which we will not win, likely taking thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars away from our teachers, staff and classrooms."
The Satan club's flyers were also not distributed to all students. The Satanic Temple sent total of 30 flyers were sent to Jane Addams Elementary to be displayed in the lobby, Savage said. That's where some students chose to pick them up.
Savage further emphasized that students need a parent's permission to attend the after-school club, just as they would any other club.
Several Jane Addams Elementary parents told News 8 on Wednesday they do not plan to send their children.