The devil you say: Washington Post helps boost Satanist school program

Satanists have announced plans for "After School Satan Clubs" in public schools, trying to compete with Christian clubs already there.  And the Washington Post is all too ready to help the campaign.

The Washington Post guest writer strives to show that the Satanic Temple is not the devil you know. But the article has a clear twin purpose: dissing the "fundamentalist" Good News Club organization.

At least the writer is accurate about the look and feel of the After School Satan promotional video:

SALEM, Mass. -- It’s a hot summer night, and leaders of the Satanic Temple have gathered in the crimson¬-walled living room of a Victorian manse in this city renowned for its witch trials in the 17th century. They’re watching a sepia-toned video, in which children dance around a maypole, a spider crawls across a clown’s face and eerie, ambient chanting gives way to a backward, demonic voice-over. The group chuckles with approval.
They’re here plotting to bring their wisdom to the nation’s public elementary school children. They point out that Christian evangelical groups already have infiltrated the lives of America’s children through after-school religious programming in public schools, and they appear determined to give young students a choice: Jesus or Satan.
"It’s critical that children understand that there are multiple perspectives on all issues, and that they have a choice in how they think," said Doug Mesner, the Satanic Temple’s co-founder. 

The article notes the Temple's skill in getting publicity. David Suhor of the West Florida branch got protesters in July during  his invocation for Pensacola's city council. And last year, Mesner -- aka Lucien Greaves -- pushed to put up a Satan statue on public property in Oklahoma last year. (He gave up after the state supreme court said the Ten Commandments couldn't be set up, either).

The new video "feels like a mash-up of a horror movie trailer and a 'Saturday Night Live' sketch, the Washington Post writer chuckles, but says the Satanists are serious about planting clubs in schools. She says chapter heads from four states attended the viewing, with others from at least six cities taking part online. How many individuals? We'll come back to that later.

What would the clubs offer? A "healthful snack, literature lesson, creative learning activities, a science lesson, puzzle solving and an art project," the article says. Kids will also be prodded to develop "reasoning and social skills."

And the writer really, really wants us to know that the Satanists want to encourage empathy, benevolence and those "multiple points of view." She quotes not only Greaves but the Utah chapter head and even herself saying much the same.

As opposed, of course, to beliefs of Good News Clubs. Now for the "hit" segment.

"Good News Clubs, which are sponsored by an organization founded in 1937 called the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), aim to reach children as young as 5 with a fundamentalist form of evangelical Christianity," the story says. They were kept out of public schools because of First Amendment fears, but that changed in 2001, in a case that brought in "powerful" religious right legal groups.

The Supreme Court ruled for the clubs, and "CEF then went on a tear," the article says. By 2011, it had Good News Clubs in more than 5 percent of the nation’s public elementary schools.

Whew. "Fundamentalist," "powerful," "went on a tear" -- do you get the feeling that this story is being gamed just a leetle bit? And never mind that the Associated Press Stylebook says to call a group fundamentalist only if it applies the word to itself. And I don’t see that on CEF's website.

No, the Post prefers lengthy descriptions from Greaves and friends:

"While the Good News Clubs focus on indoctrination, instilling children with a fear of hell and God’s wrath, After School Satan Clubs will focus on free inquiry and rationalism," Greaves said. "We prefer to give children an appreciation of the natural wonders surrounding them, not a fear of an everlasting other-worldly horror."

And their targets in Good News Clubs answered what? Oh, who cares what they say? No one from CEF or any Good News Club is quoted live  in this story, despite its 1,700-word length. Instead, we get the standard canned-quote dodge:

Good News Club leaders have defended their organization’s presence in public schools. According to the Good News Club’s website, "each club includes a clear presentation of the Gospel and an opportunity for children to trust the Lord Jesus as Savior. Every club also includes strong discipleship training to build character and strengthen moral and spiritual growth."

But the quote doesn't address the accusation by Greaves/Mesner that Good News instills fear of "otherworldly horror." God or Satan or whoever forbid that the writer should pick up a phone for live comments from those fundamentalists.

Yet she does quote Mat Staver, head of Liberty Counsel, one of those "powerful" religious right groups. He agrees that the Satanists have the same right as CEF to establish clubs in public schools. He suspects, though, that the clubs will eventually "fade away in the near future for lack of interest."

But the Post article comes back with yet another plug for Satanism: a "professional educator in Tucson" (teaching what? In what school?) who says she plans to lead an After School Satan Club herself. She prefers the Temple's stress on benevolence and empathy to the "fear and hatred of other people’s beliefs, which is what Good News Clubs teach."

So, why the Satan-friendly and CEF-hostile attitude? The note at the end of the article suggests a clue: The writer is the author of The Good News Club, "an investigative book about public education and religious fundamentalism in America." 

That investigative focus on Good News may also explain the lack of basic journalistic questions. Things like: How old is the Satanic Temple? What's the staff and budget? How many members do the Satanists claim?  Who developed the materials for After School Satan?

Also, what's truly distinctive about the materials? Rationalism, empathy, benevolence -- those don’t sound terribly different from beliefs of the Council for Secular Humanism. Or, for that matter, some religions like Unitarian Universalism.

And last but not least: Is that After School Satan video meant to draw or repel? Some on YouTube defend it on the grounds of "trolling Christians." Others fret that it makes Satanists look "ugly and unappealing." 

Come to think of it, that kind of dialogue would have enhanced this article. It also would have fit Satanists' own stated values. They like multiple perspectives, right?

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