MOUNT VERNON — A so-called "After School Satan Club" proposed by the Satanic Temple of Seattle to be held at Centennial Elementary School should be allowed to proceed, an attorney hired to represent the Mount Vernon School District said.
“I think that if the school district denied that application, you would face costly litigation that would be distracting from your mission," said Duncan Fobes of the Seattle-based law firm Patterson, Buchanan, Fobes and Leitch during a Wednesday meeting of the Mount Vernon School Board. "And would ultimately be unsuccessful.”
Fobes was hired by the district's risk-pool insurance group to assess whether the district had legal standing to deny the temple's application.
“We believe that it's clear that, because the district has a policy and procedure that encourages the use of community groups to use your facilities, because you do that, you must open it to this group," Fobes said. "You don't have to sponsor the group, you don't have to help the group.”
A 2001 Supreme Court ruling, Good News Bible Club vs. Milford Central School District, stated that if schools allow any organization to use school property, they must allow all organizations — religious and secular — to have access.
The Mount Vernon district is one of nine throughout the country that has been chosen by the Satanic Temple to host a pilot After School Satan Club program because the districts also host a Good News Bible Club, which is run by the Child Evangelism Fellowship.
"We didn't invite them to the school, they put our name on a website," Centennial Principal Erwin Stroosma said. "We feel like we're pawns in a game — someone else is manipulating us."
The temple's application proposes renting space at Centennial for about an hour after school one day a month during the school year.
"This is going to be infectious and widespread," said Mike Cheek, who has grandchildren in the district. "I know that if there is anything to do with Satan, it is dark and it is evil."
When asked by a parent to raise their hands if they didn't want the After School Satan Club to take root at Centennial, nearly every community member in attendance did so.
"They say they're not going to teach anything bad, but we don't know," Moises Pacheco, whose grandchildren attend Madison Elementary, said through a translator.
Other parents were less concerned.
"It feels like we're all reacting with fear," said Melissa McPhaden. "I'm not afraid of what this church can do, because I have a relationship with my children."
The temple claims to worship no deity, but previously told the Skagit Valley Herald it uses Satan "as a metaphor for fighting religious tyranny and oppression.”
"I think the reason the (temple) is here is because they wanted a reaction," McPhaden said. "And they got the reaction. I don't think they want to start a Satanic club in Mount Vernon."
A representative from the Satanic Temple of Seattle did not return calls Thursday by the Skagit Valley Herald.
Fobes said the district has the right to review the proposed curriculum for the club, but it cannot prohibit the club from school property unless that curriculum uses hate speech, incites violence or includes pornography.
“What this group purports is they support rational thinking activities," Fobes said. "I don't know what they actually do because no one's done it yet. This is a pretty new undertaking by this group.”
The district cannot ban all after-school groups in an effort to keep the temple out, Fobes said, and even if it could, doing so would likely open it up to lawsuits.
“I think it’s not an option here,” Fobes said. “I believe in this particular case you would still face some litigation, not only from the Satanic Temple, but also from the Good News club.”
The district would also lose out on whatever revenue is generated by allowing groups to use its facilities.
"Very unfortunately, our hands are tied in this question," Board President Rob Coffey said. "We must make our facilities available — and in many cases we are eager to make them available — to Boys & Girls Clubs, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts. We must make them available whether we like the group or not. There really is no opportunity for us to say no to the Satanic Temple or the After School Satan Club.”
Superintendent Carl Bruner said Thursday he intends to meet again with Fobes.