Satanic Temple sues Shelby County Schools over alleged First Amendment violation

Published 5:04 pm Friday, March 22, 2024

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By Holly McCall

Tennessee Lookout

A national group representing the Satanic Temple filed a lawsuit against Memphis-Shelby County Schools alleging it violated the organization’s First Amendment right to free assembly when it blocked an afterschool club from meeting on school property.

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The suit, filed earlier this week, stems from the Temple’s efforts to hold meetings of the After School Satan Club (ASSC) — which offers science- and nature-based activities and arts and crafts programs — at Chimneyrock Elementary School.

A representative of the group contacted school district officials in November of last year to request space for club meetings at the same rate charged to other after school groups, including the Good News Club, a group sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship. According to the suit, administrators with the school district failed to respond to multiple emails sent through an administrative portal set up for such requests.

On December 13, the school district held a press conference to denounce the ASSC, at which Althea Greene, the school board’s chair, referred to the group as the “enemy.”

The lawsuit alleges Memphis Schools has charged ASSC “exorbitant” fees, including a $2,045 “special security fee” for additional security officers if it wanted to host a January meeting at Chimneyrock, while not assessing a similar fee to other nonprofit organizations meeting at school facilities. Additionally, the Satanic Temple charges the school district has “chilled” speech through attempts to block or hinder meetings.

The Satanic Temple, a 501(c)3 nonprofit group founded in 2013, is “a religious organization dedicated to the practice and promotion of individual rights,” according to its website. Members do not “worship Satan or any other devil, god or supernatural power,” and the group’s mission statement says it “embraces benevolence and empathy” and “practices common sense and justice.”

“The Satanic Temple simply wants to be treated equally to other groups renting school facilities, like the Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News Club that currently rents space at the school on a weekly basis,” said June Everett, campaign director for the After School Satan Club, in a statement. “The After School Satan Club (and Before School Satan Club) are requesting fair and equal access to rent school facilities without being discriminated against.”

Memphis-Shelby County Schools said in a statement the board does not comment on pending litigation.

The Satanic Temple is represented in the suit by Memphis attorney Scott Kramer and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group asked for $1 in damages, payment of legal fees and declaratory judgment that the school district is violating the First Amendment.