KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — After-school religious clubs appear to be the next venture of a national group that sought to install a statue of Satan outside two state capitols to protest Christian monuments on public grounds.
The Satanic Temple contacted nine public school districts across the country this week seeking to start after-school Satan programs. In all but one district, religious clubs are operated by the Child Evangelism Fellowship's Good News Clubs, in which students can study the Bible and pray, according to temple co-founder Lucien Greaves.
Several districts contacted by The Associated Press said they were reviewing the group's request and noted their facilities were available to community groups.
Mat Staver, founder of a Christian legal aid group that has represented the Child Evangelism Fellowship, said Greaves' organization was illegitimate and an "atheist group masquerading" as religious. Greaves described Satanism as an atheist philosophy whose believers "feel it provides everything a religion provides to be legitimized as such."
The Satanic Temple, based in Massachusetts with chapters in several states, said it wants to counter well-funded fundamentalist Christian organizations that it believes are eroding the separation of church and state in public schools. Greaves said the after-school program would show "that people can be of different religious opinions and still be moral, upright people."
"We think that when kids are being exposed to the idea that they will burn in hell and other supernatural ideas, that there is a positive upshot to being exposed to the presence of a satanic afterschool program," he said.
Greaves said his group could pose tough legal fights if its requests are denied.
In Utah, the Granite School District said that if the group meets set requirements, including paying rent, there's nothing the district can do to stop it. District spokesman Ben Horsley said the group won't be able to put up fliers in schools or talk to students during school hours, the same arrangement given to the Good News Club.
Springfield Public Schools in Missouri also said it was reviewing the group's request. It noted that granting requests to use the district's taxpayer-funded facilities "does not constitute the district's endorsement." The school district in Prince George's County, Maryland, described a similar policy and noted parental permission was required for after-school activities.
The other districts are in Georgia, California, Florida, Oregon, Washington and Arizona.
The Satanic Temple has taken up similar causes outside schools, including seeking to install an 8½-foot-tall bronze statue of Satan at the Oklahoma Capitol to stand in contrast to a Ten Commandments monument. The Oklahoma's Supreme Court later banned all religious displays on Capitol grounds. The group is seeking to do the same outside Arkansas' statehouse, where a Ten Commandments monument has been proposed.