Free Speech Apocalypse: After School Jesus v. After School Satan.
In a 2001 Supreme Court decision styled Good News Club v. Milford Central School it was determined that schools, as limited public forums, cannot discriminate against evangelical Christian clubs because of their religious viewpoint. The Court rightfully concluded that sort of exclusion based on religious viewpoint would stand in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Christians rejoiced, and evangelical after-school clubs such as the named Good News Club propped open the school house door with their Bibles and did whatever it is an after school evangelical group does after school. 15 years later, the same evangelical groups, once celebrating their free speech victory, are trying to hastily remove those Biblical door-stops and seal themselves inside. What happened?
After School Satan Clubs are apparently in the works. The apocalypse looms.
Good News Clubs are probably very familiar with Luke 23:34. Jesus is quoted as saying “Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The irony that this statement could be used to describe a once cherished victory for Christian groups is not lost on Doug Mesner, co-founder of the Satanic Temple. Mesner “sarcastically thanks the [Good News Club case] for opening the doors to after school religion clubs.” Perhaps Good News Clubs should find another important quote in the book of Mathew about turning the other cheek instead of trying to ban groups utilizing the freedoms they fought so hard to guarantee.
Mesner’s clubs will ostensibly “emphasize a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious world view. After School Satan Clubs incorporate games, projects, and thinking exercises that help children understand how we know what we know about our world and our universe….Satanism is a religion that endorses scientific rationalism as our best model for understanding the natural world.” While celebrating science and reason sounds like a reasonable mission for an after school club on its face, it begs the question why a club openly endorsing a "non-superstitious world view" and "scientific rationalism" needs to be named for a religious super-villain if not to simply inflame.
It will be interesting to see if these clubs ever materialize, and if so, what legal skirmish lines will be drawn. Should they materialize, schools still have rather broad ability to censor speech and activities that might create a substantial disruption as defined in the seminal case of Tinker and its progeny. In any event, the 2001 Milford decision stands as a protection against government censorship of viewpoint, and that protection is critically important when the viewpoint is one that is unpopular.
--By Derek A. Jordan, Esq., Barnes Law
Derek A. Jordan is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in Tennessee.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.