When a controversial After-School Satan Club for kids at Point Defiance Elementary School in Tacoma Washington opted out of continuing their program this year, reports surfaced that it was stalled because only one student joined. But reports of the Dark Lords’ diminished popularity among Washington State schoolchildren were, according to National Director for the After-School Satan Clubs Chalice Blythe, a member of the Satanic Temple, greatly exaggerated.
“It wasn’t shut down,” she says. “It was a voluntary non-reapplication for the next school year because the teacher got a different job and wasn’t able to devote the time and resources. It happens with all after-school programs.”
That said, she also admitted that the program shutdown had only affected one student, though she denied that this had anything to do with anything at all. “It’s never about meeting a quota for us,” she explained. And that statement definitely seems to be true. After-School Satan Club, at least in Tacoma, seems like it was more about getting even.
The Good News Club, an evangelist after-school club, has been growing nationally. For members of the Satanic Temple, who don’t like recruitment on school campuses, this is deeply provocative. It is, in a very real sense, the reason that the Satanic Temple started an after-school program. The initiative certainly wasn’t about religious recruitment. In fact, Satan Club is a misnomer. Students who attend sessions are taught about individualism, scientific inquiry, empathy, and critical thinking. In essence, Satan Club is about decision-making. Is one of those decisions likely to be wearing all black? Sure, but it’s not clear that anyone cares about horned deities, just values.
“Kids should be able to learn that just because something is called a certain thing, doesn’t mean it’s evil,” Blythe says. She asserts that by being around people who identify as Satanists who are good and contribute to their communities, kids “start to understand that just because someone tells you something is bad doesn’t mean it actually is bad.”
Fatherly spoke with Blythe about how the provocative name is essentially kids’ first lessons in critical thinking and how these teachings can help them cope with their fears, religious-based and otherwise — and the same goes for parents as well.
Tell me about your experience starting an after-school program in Utah. I imagine that being a challenging state to start an After-School Satan club in, no?
Utah was actually the least challenging club that was in operation. We had three last year, one in Taylorsville, Utah, one in Portland, Oregon, and one in Tacoma, Washington. I got the least amount of protests, the least amount of terrible behavior from the district and representatives, I probably had the easiest time. It was very clear they didn’t like it and thought it was strange, but in every part of the process, I was treated with respect. Utah is very different, it’s primarily Latter-day Saints and that culture is very passive aggressive. I’m sure there were a lot of prayers and “please save their souls” on Sundays or during nightly prayers, but it was never directed at us.
Can you tell me how many kids you had involved in the successful program in Utah?
We had a few, I try not to get that into specific numbers.
And why is that?
Privacy is very important because we don’t want kids to be retaliated against. It’s very brave of them to associate with us — once they get there they realize we’re a bunch of lame adults like everyone else. But we want to make sure they can come and enjoy the curriculum without the threat of being retaliated against — same for the parents, too. That’s why we’re so protective of the identities, as well as the number of kids in the programs.
Well, and to be fair, it’s hard to maintain kids’ interests with a lot of things. What is the curriculum like and what sort of activities do you utilize to engage kids?
First and foremost, we are not teaching satanism in school. We do not believe in proselytizing or recruiting children in any way, shape, or form. We teach them about global culture, rationality, scientific inquiry, and talk to kids about things that scare them and teach them that if you learn about those things, maybe they won’t be so scary anymore. Then there’s the Good News Club, these native self-images, and they have this preoccupation with sin and hell, and complete aversion to critical thinking, so we’re offering the opposite of that within what we believe, but without having to proselytize kids.
Without the Good News Club, would there be the After-School Satan club? Did they create the need?
Evangelism in schools created the need. And these after-school programs, a lot of time they’re a form of daycare and a lot of parents rely on that. They need that extra hour because of traveling for work or whatever the case may be, and the Good News Clubs kind of prey on that. For parents who want to counter that narrative, they should have the option to leave their kids with a group who’s not going to scare them, or make them think they’re going to hell, or turn them into recruitment tools. We don’t want any religious groups in schools. We’d prefer ours wasn’t there. But as long as there are religious groups there, we offer a great alternative.
So it’s not like you woke up one day and were like, “Kids need to learn about Satan.” It’s to counter something you believe to be harmful to children. Is that accurate?
Yes. They tell these kids about hell and damnation and that they’re born in sin, and that people who don’t believe these things will burn for all eternity. So you have kids, who love their friends and love their families, hearing this and it scares them.
If you’re not teaching satanism to kids, then what sort of things are you doing in the after-school programs? What kind of activities do you use to keep kids engaged?
We have a lot of art projects, group activities and individual ones, going outside on campus and learning about nature, and just engaging them and asking them questions about how they feel about things. They’re smart and curious and want to learn things and we try and bolster that.
Do you have any new after-school programs starting this year or plans in upcoming years?
This year we announced a volunteer-based program so that more people have access to the curriculum and can start them in their schools. Before we only had it available to established Satanic Temple chapters. Now they apply, get vetted, get background checks, and we make sure they really understand what we’re trying to do. Since we started, I’ve been getting about 15 to 20 emails a day. We’ll know more about a number of clubs popping up in the next month or two.
I know you said that the after-school programs do not teach satanism, but are there any tenets of satanism that could be useful to kids?
People can google all seven of them, but they teach people about being empathetic, basing your beliefs on the best scientific knowledge available to you. All of the tenets have a lot of secular and human value, that no matter their religious background, kids and adults can get behind. They’re not telling you what to believe, they’re guiding principles that anyone can instill in their lives.
We get this all the time from parents, that they read their children the tenets of satanism and kids were all about it — they just didn’t tell them it was satanism. We hear this a lot, people will read them and think “this is something I can get behind.” And afterwards, they’re told it’s from the Satanic Temple. Then they freak out.