Satanic Temple at war with Christian clubs; Cobb school one skirmish

The group is called the Satanic Temple, but its members say they believe in science, not Satan.

The temple’s targets say its work, which now includes a plan to bring extracurricular classes to a Cobb County elementary school, is nothing more than a publicity stunt.

The uproar over the temple’s proposed curriculum — which includes coloring books and pamphlets titled “It’s Okay to Not Believe in God!” — targets a long-running dispute between faith-based organizations versus atheists and civil libertarians over the Christian-based Good News Club in about 4,500 schools nationwide, including Still Elementary in Cobb County.

Satanic Temple organizers have opposed efforts they say force religion, particularly Christianity, onto taxpayer-funded properties, such as when an Oklahoma state lawmaker placed a Ten Commandments statue outside the state Capitol.

Cobb school leaders say they are in no way connected with the temple, whose website has images of human bodies with horned animal heads. News reports surfaced Monday, the first day of school in Georgia’s second-largest school district, that the group wants to bring its curriculum to Still Elementary and eight other schools across the country that host Good News clubs.

“Still Elementary School does not have an afterschool Satan club,” Still Elementary Principal Grace Scarberry said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Cobb school district spokeswoman Donna Lowry said Tuesday the Good News Club, and other groups, such as the Boy Scouts, can use a school facility under the district’s administrative rules.

The temple, whose members are mostly atheists or agnostic, recently decided on this tactic to take on the Good News Club, which teaches students biblical principles and was started 79 years ago. The club will meet after school once a week at Still, with parental permission, according to a registration form.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a New York school district’s decision prohibiting the club from operating at a school violated the club’s free-speech rights. Supporters and critics of the ruling, including the Satanic Temple, have since sparred over the club’s sessions.

Jed Drummond, a founding member of the temple’s Atlanta chapter, which started a few months ago, said it has not yet made an official request to teach its curriculum, though Still Elementary was cited on the national group’s website as one of the targeted schools. Drummond said in an interview Tuesday that they wanted to highlight their concerns that after-school programs promote religious indoctrination and violate the U.S. Constitution.

“The issue is evangelical Christian groups are able to come into public schools and use their facilities to conduct religiously motivated clubs,” Drummond said. “We wish to offer an alternative to that.”

Or persuade schools to drop their Good News Clubs.

Registration forms to join a Good News Club are typically sent via mail or located in school offices. The Child Evangelism Fellowship, which organizes the Good News Club, wouldn’t discuss specifics about the Cobb County club. A vice president for the fellowship, though, welcomed the opportunity to offer his take about the Satanic Temple.

“This debate has taken place,” said Moises Esteves, who predicted the temple’s effort will “fizzle” out. “It’s settled. The train has left the station. These are atheists trying to scare parents with horns and pitchforks.”

Drummond said the fearsome website images are a “metaphor” to counter what his group believes is unconstitutional religious exposure to students. “Hail Satan” T-shirts are on sale there for $25.

“People think we treat Satan as a deity and that is not true,” Drummond said, explaining what he described as the biggest misconception of temple members. “We are a science-based organization.”

Drummond said the Atlanta chapter has received some criticism of its plan. Some people critical of their plans, he noted, said they’ll pray for them.