As controversy roils a Virginia town over a planned Satanist after-school club, organizers and parents on both sides of the issue spoke to Fox News Digital to share their perspectives.
The city of Chesapeake has recently drawn national attention as the center of a firestorm sweeping the southeastern Virginia community after The Satanic Temple has attempted to establish an After School Satan Club (ASSC) for kids at the local B.M. Williams Primary School.
‘Fear and indoctrination’
"Regarding parents who are upset about the club, I would like them to know that we are here because we have worked with educators to develop an after-school program that is engaging and fun and helps young minds grow and thrive," June Everett, an ordained minister in The Satanic Temple and campaign director of ASSC, told Fox News Digital.
Maintaining that ASSC "fosters creativity and projects [that] are often designed to benefit the community and promote empathy," Everett said The Satanic Temple attempts to establish such clubs "as a constructive and positive alternative to other religious after-school clubs that often glorify fear and indoctrination."
Everett said she was first led to The Satanic Temple five years ago after her first-grader "was traumatized by his classmates on the playground one day, and they were attendees of the Good News Club that was taking place at the public elementary school he was attending at the time."
"I picked him up from school one afternoon, crying and upset after he was told that he would burn in hell away from his mommy and daddy and Molly, our dog at the time, if we didn’t accept Jesus Christ into our hearts and start going to church," Everett continued. "I knew there was a Good News Club [there] at the time, and this prompted me to start researching them more, and I realized that this is their goal: to use children who attend the club to proselytize to their peers."
"Satanism truly has made me a better person, a better friend, a better parent and a much better contributing member of society."
Everett, who earlier this week resubmitted an application to establish an ASSC in Chesapeake after the original sponsor withdrew, said the congregation at her local chapter of The Satanic Temple took her in "with such open arms."
"I had never met such genuine, non-judgmental people in my life," she said. "Satanism truly has made me a better person, a better friend, a better parent and a much better contributing member of society."
Everett said she believes that "the evangelicals" in particular emphasize fear and indoctrination in their approach, citing that the Child Evangelism Fellowship's (CEF) stated mission for the Good News Clubs they sponsor is "to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and to establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living."
‘We emphasize the goodness of God’
Lydia Kaiser, a spokesperson for the Missouri-based CEF, could not comment on the specifics of Everett's situation because she was not involved, but she described as "typical" the accusation that Good News Clubs browbeat children into Christianity. Their curriculum materials for children, however, emphasize God's goodness and do not contain vivid descriptions of hell, she told Fox News Digital.
"We believe that there is a physical place called hell, we believe all that the Bible says about it," said Kaiser. "But when we're talking to children, the way we describe it is ‘separation from God.’"
"You don't need all the scary description," Kaiser continued. "We don't want to scare children into making a decision. We want them to desire a relationship with God. That's our goal. And so we emphasize the goodness of God, how much God loves them and wants to forgive them for their sin and be their friend, their Savior and their Lord."
"We try to draw children into a relationship with God by describing him as good, and the bad we describe as separation from all of that," she added.
Kaiser, who noted that parents are welcome to observe what goes on at after-school Good News Clubs, parried arguments that children are too young to reflect on spiritual issues by pointing out how children are expected by adults to learn other basics of human existence such as a healthy diet and personal hygiene.
‘The real danger’
Stephen Mannix, who said he has served for about 15 years as the chairman of his local CEF chapter in the Virginia Tidewater region, said he plans to speak about the ASSC brouhaha at next week's scheduled school board meeting in Chesapeake.
"They say they don't have any religious content, but it's bigger than that," Mannix told Fox News Digital of the Satan clubs.
ASSC claims not to teach of a personal devil, but rather serves as a place where young students can learn about benevolence and empathy, critical thinking, problem-solving, creative expression, personal sovereignty and compassion.
Both Mannix and Kaiser believe that since The Satanic Temple started its ASSC campaign in 2016, it has been using the 2001 Supreme Court decision in Good News Club v. Milford Central School to stir up hysteria in various places that sponsor Good News Clubs until school boards feel compelled to shut down after-school clubs altogether.
The case ultimately rose to the Supreme Court after an upstate New York school district denied an application to a Good News Club on the basis that "the kinds of activities proposed to be engaged in by the Good News Club were not a discussion of secular subjects such as child-rearing, development of character and development of morals from a religious perspective, but were in fact the equivalent of religious instruction itself."
The Supreme Court's opinion, which was written by former Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, ruled in favor of the Good News Club, noting that restrictions on speech in a "limited public forum" such as a public school must not discriminate on the basis of the speaker's viewpoint.
The school district's attorneys in the case argued that having a religious club on public school property, even after school hours, would violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution by leading children to believe that the school or the government was somehow establishing a particular religion.
The Court shot that argument down, writing: "Finally, even if we were to inquire into the minds of schoolchildren in this case, we cannot say the danger that children would misperceive the endorsement of religion is any greater than the danger that they would perceive a hostility toward the religious viewpoint if the Club were excluded from the public forum."
The Satanic Temple "does not believe in introducing religion into public schools and will only open a club if other religious groups are operating on campus," according to their website.
"We are only doing this because Good News Clubs have created a need for this," Lucien Greaves, cofounder of The Satanic Temple, told The Washington Post in 2016. "If Good News Clubs would operate in churches rather than public schools, that need would disappear. But our point is that if you let one religion into the public schools you have to let others, otherwise it’s an establishment of religion."
"The danger becomes this lie of a secularized space that bans and censors and tells Christians to go home," said Mannix. "That's where the real danger is."
Kaiser and Mannix pointed out the short shelf life of Satanist clubs as an indication of their intention merely to sow discord in an attempt to shut down competing Christian clubs.
Everett confirmed to Fox News Digital that only four clubs are currently active in the U.S., pending the approval of a fifth in Chesapeake.
‘Wearing down the inhibition of children’
"They say that they don't actually teach kids about Satan," Kaiser said of the Satan clubs. "They say it's more about humanism and so-called tolerance, which is ironic when they're actually being intolerant, trying to get us kicked out."
"But they have an 8,000-pound statue of Satan with two little elementary-aged children looking at it adoringly," Kaiser continued. "If every time the story was run, they would show a picture of this mascot, people would be able to judge for themselves whether they're trying to appeal to children with Satanism."
"They're wearing down the inhibition of children so that they'll think it's fine to attend a truly satanic event when they're older," she added.
The statue Kaiser referenced, which The Satanic Temple unveiled in 2015, cost $100,000 to make and has featured repeatedly in its public campaigns. Standing at nearly 9 feet tall, the bronze figure depicts a boy and a girl gazing up at a winged, goat-headed hermaphrodite known as Baphomet, which has historically been presented as a satanic symbol.
Based on an 1856 sketch of the "Sabbatic Goat" by French occultist Éliphas Lévi, the statue is replete with occult symbolism representing the union of supposed binary opposites such as human and animal, male and female or good and evil.
In Lévi's original depiction, the figure was androgynous, but Greaves told the BBC in 2015 that in their iteration, Baphomet's breasts were removed to avoid wading into cultural gender debates. He noted to the outlet that the original drawing's "male-female dualism" is represented instead by the two children.
‘At their wits’ end’
Citing "the heightened emotional situation in our city" following the recent mass shooting at a local Walmart, the original sponsor of the ASSC in Chesapeake withdrew her name this week, according to The Virginian-Pilot. Other organizers promptly resubmitted the necessary paperwork and still aim to roll out the ASSC at the primary school on Dec. 15.
Aspen Nolette, a local parent and founder of Chesapeake Parents for Freedom, said the ASSC has caused an "uproar" in her community and that parents are increasingly wearied by what is going on in public schools.
"People are extremely upset, they're extremely disturbed, I think," Nolette told Fox News Digital. "In the nation right now, you've got boys attempting to go into girls' bathrooms. You saw what happened in Loudoun County, Virginia, and the assault that happened there because of that. You've got pornographic books and graphic novels in our schools that parents are extremely upset about because we have laws about distributing pornography to children."
"And now you've got After School Satan Clubs. From what I've seen, and I've been involved in this for a couple of years, parents are at their wits' end," Nolette added. "The Satan clubs seem to be where they drew the line."