Case: The Satanic Temple v. Saucon Valley School District
ACLU Affiliate: ACLU of Pennsylvania
November 16, 2023 4:00 pm
HELLERTOWN, Pa. — In a victory for free speech and religious liberty, The Satanic Temple, Inc. (TST) has reached a settlement with the Saucon Valley School District in a lawsuit alleging that district officials improperly blocked TST’s After School Satan Club (ASSC) from meeting in school facilities. The settlement comes approximately six months after a federal court ordered the school district to allow the ASSC to convene at the Saucon Valley Middle School, ruling that the district had likely violated the First Amendment when it prevented students and families from gathering on school grounds in connection with the TST-sponsored club.
Under the settlement, the district must give TST and the ASSC the same access to school facilities that other comparable organizations receive. The agreement also prohibits the district from retaliating against TST, the ASSC, their volunteers, and their members based on their viewpoint or “the exercise of their First Amendment rights.” The district has agreed to pay $200,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to TST’s attorneys.
“We are pleased that this matter has been resolved and that the school district has agreed to stop all discrimination against us,” said June Everett, director of TST’s ASSC programming. “Thanks to the court’s order, we were able to hold ASSC meetings at the Saucon Valley Middle School, and the kids who attended were overjoyed. It’s for them that we took on this legal fight in the first place, and we won’t hesitate to do so again if other school districts continue to enact discriminatory policies.”
TST applied to hold ASSC meetings at the Saucon Valley Middle School in February 2023, in accordance with the district’s policy allowing organizations, including religious groups like the Christian-based Good News Club, to rent SVSD facilities for civic, cultural, educational, and recreational activities. Although the district initially approved the application, it quickly reversed the decision in response to public pressure. Claiming that the district’s refusal to allow the ASSC to use school facilities violated the First Amendment, TST filed suit in March of 2023.
In granting emergency judicial relief to TST, a federal court concluded that the district’s decision to deny the ASSC access to school facilities was improperly “based on The Satanic Temple’s controversial views on religion and the community’s negative reactions thereto.” The court explained: “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.”
“We are pleased that the district is providing the ASSC equal access to school facilities in accordance with the court’s decision and has agreed to settle the case,” said Sara Rose, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which represented TST along with the national ACLU and Dechert LLP. “As the court recognized, when a public school opens up its facilities to community use, it cannot discriminate based on religious beliefs or other viewpoints. This settlement sends a powerful reminder to all school districts that the First Amendment protects the viewpoints and beliefs of all people and faiths, and we will take action when they forget or ignore this lesson.”