HELLERTOWN, Pa. — A federal district court issued a preliminary injunction today, ordering the Saucon Valley School District (SVSD) to allow the After School Satan Club (ASSC) to meet in district facilities. The emergency injunction comes after the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Dechert LLP filed a lawsuit in March on behalf of The Satanic Temple (TST), which sponsors the club. In its decision, the court ruled that the district likely violated the First Amendment when it bowed to public pressure by revoking approval for the club to hold meetings at the Saucon Valley Middle School. The district had previously admitted that, under the U.S. Constitution, it “cannot discriminate among groups wishing to use the SVSD facilities.”
In the ruling, Judge John M. Gallagher held that the district’s decision to deny the ASSC access to school facilities “was based on The Satanic Temple’s controversial views on religion and the community’s negative reactions thereto.” This motivation, the court explained, is incompatible with the First Amendment:
“When confronted with a challenge to free speech, the government’s first instinct must be to forward expression rather than quash it. Particularly when the content is controversial or inconvenient. Nothing less is consistent with the expressed purpose of American government to secure the core, innate rights of its people.”
Although the district contends that it rescinded approval for the ASSC because the group failed to make clear on a permission slip that the club is not sponsored by the district, the court ultimately determined that the claim was a pretext meant to cover up the district’s discrimination against the group’s religious beliefs.
“We applaud the court for recognizing the threat to the First Amendment rights of the After School Satan Club and The Satanic Temple and preventing Saucon Valley School District from continuing its brazen discrimination,” said Sara Rose, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “This ruling sends a powerful message that the First Amendment protects the viewpoints and beliefs of all people and faiths. When a school district opens up its facilities, it cannot discriminate based on religious beliefs. This ruling reinforces the principle of equal access and ensures that all views have a fair opportunity to be expressed.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges that the district’s refusal to grant the ASSC equal access to school facilities gave a “heckler’s veto” to those who dislike the group’s religious viewpoint. The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from censoring speech based on the objections or reactions of others and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment bars official discrimination based on faith.
“This is welcome news for Saucon Valley students and families seeking to participate in the supportive and inclusive community provided by ASSC meetings,” said June Everett, director of The Satanic Temple’s ASSC programming. “The ruling affirms that schools may not discriminate against groups on the basis of their beliefs or faith. The district must allow all qualified organizations to use district facilities, even if some in the community object.”
In accordance with district policy allowing for the reservation and rental of SVSD facilities for civic, cultural, educational, and recreational activities, numerous organizations, including religious groups like the Christian-based Good News Club, hold meetings and events at district schools. In February, TST likewise applied to use district facilities for club meetings. The club is open to all students and offers programming — such as community service projects, games, nature-based activities, and arts and crafts — inspired by, and aligned with, the Satanic virtues of benevolence, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, creative expression, personal sovereignty, and compassion.
The court’s order requires the district “to permit the After School Satan Club to meet on the three dates and at the location previously stipulated to by the parties” and instructs that “the meetings shall otherwise be subject to the conditions upon which the parties agreed when Defendant approved Plaintiff’s application to hold After School Satan Club meetings on February 16, 2023.”
In addition to the emergency relief granted today, the lawsuit requests permanent injunctive relief against the district, as well as compensatory and nominal damages and attorneys’ fees.
The ruling issued today can be found here.