ACLU sues Saucon Valley School District for shutting out After School Satan Club
LOWER SAUCON TWP., Pa. — The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Dechert LLP are suing the Saucon Valley School District in federal court, alleging prohibiting the After School Satan Club from meeting on district property is a violation of First Amendment rights.
The ACLU in a March 3 letter had given the district until March 7 to rescind a decision by Superintendent Jaime Vlasaty to shut down a planned March 8 meeting of the After School Satan Club.
- The ACLU is suing the Saucon Valley School District over its refusal to host the Satan Club on school grounds
- The club's request generated controversy and threats of violence
- The lawsuit argues denial is a First Amendment violation
School officials originally approved a mid-February request to use space at Saucon Valley Middle School for the after-school program. The district said it had allowed other religious groups to use facilities and therefore was obligated to allow all.
A few days later, a flier advertising the Satan Club appeared on Facebook, and controversy quickly spread.
Vlasaty initially released a message defending the district’s decision saying, “Religious groups are among those the district has allowed [renting] our facilities over the years. By law, the district cannot discriminate among groups wishing to use the SVSD facilities.”
Later the same day, a caller left a voicemail threatening a shooting at the school because of the Satan Club decision, prompting the superintendent to cancel school the next day.
Ceu “Van” Uk, 20, of Charlotte, North Carolina, was charged with making terroristic threats, according to a statement from the Northampton County District Attorney's Office.
“The Saucon Valley School District’s decision to cancel the After School Satan Club in response to public opposition sets a dangerous precedent."Sara Rose, ACLU deputy legal director
Vlasaty later decided to not let the Satan Club use district property, saying it violated district policy when it failed to clearly communicate that the district was not sponsoring its activities, which is a violation of district policy.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges that the district’s refusal to grant the club equal access to school facilities gives a “heckler’s veto” to those who dislike the group’s religious viewpoint, the ACLU’s news release said. It argues the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from censoring speech based on the objections or reactions of others.
“The Saucon Valley School District’s decision to cancel the After School Satan Club in response to public opposition sets a dangerous precedent,” said Sara Rose, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
“The First Amendment protects the expression of unpopular or controversial views from government censorship," Rose said in a prepared statement. "Once the district opened up school facilities to outside use, it was bound by the First Amendment to grant equal access to all groups, regardless of their religious beliefs or viewpoints.”
BREAKING: We’re suing Pennsylvania’s Saucon Valley School District after they banned the After School Satan Club from meeting in district facilities and violated their First Amendment rights.— ACLU (@ACLU) March 30, 2023
The club and a handful of others like it in the U.S. are organized by the Satanic Temple, which organizers have said are not devil worshippers but instead defenders of individual liberty and rejecting tyranny.
“The After School Satan Club provides a critical space for students who may feel unwelcome at other after-school religious clubs,” said June Everett, director of The Satanic Temple’s Afterschool Satan Club programming. “By prohibiting the ASSC from meeting in school facilities, the district is sending a discriminatory message to the club’s students that they are second class and don’t deserve the same opportunities as their peers.”
The complaint requests emergency and permanent injunctive relief against the district, as well as compensatory and nominal damages and attorneys’ fees.