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After School Satan Club near Allentown gets go-ahead from judge

 A logo for the After School Satan Club, from The Satanic Temple's website.
The Satanic Temple
A logo for the After School Satan Club, from The Satanic Temple's website.

The After School Satan Club will be allowed to meet on Saucon Valley School District property, following a ruling from a federal judge.

In a preliminary order issued Monday, Judge John Gallagher of the U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania directed Saucon Valley schools to let the club hold three meetings on school property before the end of this school year.

Full Satan Opinion by LVNewsdotcom

“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,” Gallagher wrote.

“At this stage of litigation… the record before the Court indicates the decision of Defendant, Saucon Valley School District, to rescind approval of the After School Satan Club’s use of District facilities was based on The Satanic Temple’s controversial views on religion and the community’s negative reactions thereto."

Saucon Valley schools Superintendent Jaime Vlasaty initially approved permission for the group to meet earlier this year, but later reversed course amid backlash from the community, including a threatened shooting.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Satanic Temple filed suit in response, arguing that the district discriminated against the club.

In addition to the injunction granted Monday, the plaintiffs asked Gallagher for an order compelling Saucon Valley to send home permission slips for the after-school Satan club, which he denied. The lawsuit itself has not been decided.

In filings and hours of testimony at a hearing last month, Vlasaty said she decided to revoke permission because the group violated district policy 707, which requires outside organizations meeting on district property to clearly communicate their independence from the district.

Gallagher wrote in his ruling that evidence submitted so far “strongly indicates” her decision was “motivated by unconstitutional considerations unrelated to policy 707.”

Saucon Valley’s school board recently adopted a modified version of the policy. The After School Satan club will have to reapply under the new rules for next school year; Vlasaty said she was prepared to allow the club back on campus.

Both the ACLU and the Satanic Temple celebrated the injunction.

“This ruling sends a powerful message that the First Amendment protects the viewpoints and beliefs of all people and faiths,” said Sara Rose, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, in a news release Monday. “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.”

“This is welcome news for Saucon Valley students and families seeking to participate in the supportive and inclusive community provided by ASSC meetings,” June Everett, the Satanic Temple’s director for After School Satan Club, said in a news release.

Representatives for Saucon Valley School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Ryan Gaylor | Lehigh Valley News