Lilith Starr, a devil's advocate in every sense, is in a rush to get her After School Satan Club started.
As founder of the Satanic Temple of Seattle, she's under pressure from national satanic headquarters — located in the Colonial witch trials city of Salem, Mass. — to launch a counter-strike against grade school Christianity by opening an after-school Satan Club.
"I think many people have the misunderstanding that we are some kind of tongue-in-cheek troll group," said Starr, 44, a Harvard grad who sometimes dresses in church robes and, when circumstances demand, paints her lips and part of her face black.
"But in reality we are a very serious religion, with our own shared narrative, culture and symbols, a code of ethics — our Seven Tenets — and worship in the form of activism."
The national movement is attempting to establish a dozen After School Satan Clubs across the country. Local chapters have applied for space at public grade schools in cities including Atlanta, Detroit, Washington, Portland, Ore., Tacoma, Wash., Salt Lake City, Tucson, and Los Angeles.
The clubs are all seeking school district approval, with the Atlanta-area club saying it hopes to hold its first meeting by Halloween.
The Los Angeles Unified School District appears to be the only school district to outright reject the club. In response to a Los Angeles Times inquiry Monday, the district issued a statement stating the club proposed for Chase Elementary School in Panorama City "does not meet the minimum requirement of having the school's approval and, therefore, will not be offered at the school."
That rejection could lead to a legal challenge. The Christians may have the force of Heaven behind them, but the Satanists have the U.S. Supreme Court.
A 2001 high court ruling in a civil case brought by the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Missouri held that when a government operates a "limited public forum" such as after-school clubs, it can't discriminate against the kind of speech that takes place.
The victory permitted the clubs to proselytize in public classrooms after hours. It also opened the school door for students of any faith, or no faith, to be taught the ways of Satanism.
Fifteen years later, with the Christian-based Good News Club having expanded to hundreds of schools across the U.S., the Satanists are responding.
While Good News Clubs are effectively Bible and faith classes for children, the Satan Clubs intend to preach scientific evolution of humankind rather than what they describe as the "superstitions" of organized religion.
"We believe strongly in religious plurality and we fight for equal representation for all religions," Starr said. "Whenever religion enters the public sphere, like the Good News Club at public schools, we take action to ensure that more than one religious voice is represented, and that is our intent with the After School Satan Club."
The Satanic Temple website says the group does not believe in a "personal Satan" or advocate evil, though it does embrace blasphemy as a legitimate form of expression.
Starr's temple originally planned to open its first club at a grade school in Mount Vernon, north of Seattle. The school board's attorney said the district had no choice but to approve the request due to court rulings.
But with space unavailable there until April, Starr said, the temple is now targeting Point Defiance Elementary in Tacoma, where the Satanists could likely start competing sooner with a Good News Club there. A school district spokesperson confirms the application has been made, but the school board has made no decision yet.
"We think [satanic clubs are] especially important when religious clubs target young children ages 5 to 12," said Starr, "because at these ages it can be hard for children to distinguish between official educators and the teachers proselytizing to them in the after-school clubs."
Starr, whose autobiography is called "The Happy Satanist," has an English degree from Harvard and a master's in journalism from Stanford. She says she battled depression, she confesses in a web bio, to "eventually losing her marriage, her house, her job and her friends due to an out-of-control addiction to nitrous oxide," or laughing gas.
She remarried and found Satanism reading her husband's Satanic Bible, eventually forming the Seattle temple in 2014. She said the group, which now has 78 members, meets every other week in libraries, an occult book shop and other locations, always closing sessions with a "Hail Satan" invocation.
Among their advocacy efforts was an appearance at a high school football game across Puget Sound in Bremerton. Dressed in black robes, the Satanists milled about in counterpoint to Bremerton High's assistant football coach, Joe Kennedy, who liked to lead his players kneeling in prayer on the 50-yard-line after the game. Though much of the Navy town's community supported him — so did Donald Trump at one of his campaign appearances — the school board ended up firing Kennedy for his refusal to stop, and he has taken the dispute to federal court.
During a recent speech before the Seattle Skeptics Society, Starr said such publicity aids the temple's fight against "the religious overreach that is just out of control right now across the nation." She also outlined the group's Seven Tenets, including a belief that "the freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend." The skeptics clapped heartedly.
Anderson is a special correspondent.
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