'Hell broke loose in my district': Saucon Valley superintendent testifies for hours in Satan Club case
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Lawyers from The Satanic Temple and the American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal judge in Allentown on Thursday to allow an after-school Satan Club to meet on Saucon Valley School District property.
- Lawyers for the Satanic Temple and Saucon Valley School District met in a federal courtroom Thursday
- The temple, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union, asked Judge John Gallagher to order the district to let the Satan Club meet on campus
- Superintendent Jaime Vlasaty took the witness stand for nearly three hours
After initially granting the club permission to meet on campus, Saucon Valley Superintendent Jaime Vlasaty reversed course in February. She testified for hours Thursday, defending that decision.
The hearing dealt with The Satanic Temple’s request that federal court Judge John Gallagher order the club be allowed to hold meetings on campus before the end of the school year.
Lawyers for the Saucon Valley School District said the club was disallowed from campus for breaking the district’s rules.
In particular, officials say the Satanic Temple violated policy 707, which requires outside groups that meet on district property to “clearly communicate that the activities are not being sponsored by the school district.”
Revisions to the same policy are pending before the Saucon Valley School Board. Lawyers for the district said they expect a new version, with added restrictions, to come before the board for a vote Tuesday.
Vlasaty said she is prepared to allow the club back on campus should they reapply under the new rules.
Lawyers representing The Satanic Temple and the American Civil Liberties Union argued the justification was a “pretext,” and the school district’s decision amounted to viewpoint discrimination violating the First Amendment.
Superintendent takes the stand
Vlasaty testified in defense of her decision to revoke the Satan Club’s approval for nearly three hours Thursday, maintaining that the Satan Club was booted from campus for violating policy 707.
She also described the “chaotic” week when news of the Satan Club first broke, when she was flooded by around 100 messages per day from community members weighing in on the issue, and later moved to close schools for a day aftersomeone called in a school shooting threat.
“Hell broke loose in my district,” she told the court.
Despite the blowback, she said school officials continued to prepare for the club’s meeting to take place for days after the firestorm began, until she saw the advertisements at the center of the case.
“After a threat was made to my district, The Satanic Temple organization decided to double down.”Jaime Vlasaty, Saucon Valley schools superintendent
Specifically, Vlasaty took issue with “Saucon Valley Middle School” appearing in one ad, which was not present in a previous version provided to school officials for approval.
Another posted to The Satanic Temple’s national Facebook page said the district was “hosting” the club, which lawyers for the district say could make someone think it was district-sponsored. It was not.
The latter post, published shortly after the school district closed for a day because of violent threats referencing the Satan Club, especially “ticked off” Vlasaty, she told the court.
“After a threat was made to my district, The Satanic Temple organization decided to double down,” rather than show concern, she said.
Much of the discussion compared the Satan Club’s advertisements to similar fliers promoting the Good News Club, a Christian student group that meets on campus property.
In previous court filings, Vlasaty said that the Good News Club’s materials complied with district policy. She reversed course Thursday, telling the court both clubs’ fliers violated rule 707, but that she was not aware of the Good News Club’s.
Lawyers for The Satanic Temple pressed Vlasaty on her personal views of the Satan Club, presenting previously-unseen emails the superintendent sent to parents. In one, she writes the after-school Satan Club “was something [she] would never personally support.”
“I, as a superintendent, agree with the fundamentals of the club itself,” she said, praising The Satanic Temple for building an “inclusive environment” for students. She clarified that she would not encourage her own children to participate, and said her personal views did not impact her professional decisionmaking.
The judge did not decide on the request by the Satan Club and ACLU seeking a ruling to reinstate the approval granted for the Satan Club. A decision is pending.