If you're looking for a Christmas display to rival Clark Griswold's 25,000 twinkling incandescent lights, the Chesapeake City Hall is a good place to start. The building lights up each year for its "Deck the Hall" event, a drive-through light display featuring candy cane-wrapped trees, glittering snowflakes and City Hall itself glowing red and green. The decorations were so bright I had a difficult time reading the signs that would point me to the Chesapeake Public Schools building. Luckily, it only took a few more turns before I saw two parking lots full of...
If you’re looking for a Christmas display to rival Clark Griswold’s 25,000 twinkling incandescent lights, the Chesapeake City Hall is a good place to start. The building lights up each year for its “Deck the Hall” event, a drive-through light display featuring candy cane-wrapped trees, glittering snowflakes and City Hall itself glowing red and green. The decorations were so bright I had a difficult time reading the signs that would point me to the Chesapeake Public Schools building. Luckily, it only took a few more turns before I saw two parking lots full of cars and a line of people sprawling down the block.
The crowd wasn’t there to take in the beautiful Christmas lights. Instead, they wanted to make it known to their local school board members that they opposed the addition of an After School Satan Club, or ASSC, hosted by the Satanic Temple, at B.M. Williams Primary School. When the ASSC was first approved, the Chesapeake School Board sent an email to parents explaining that while they don’t endorse the club, they feel they legally had no choice but to allow them to hold events in public buildings. They told community members they could make their personal objections to the group known at Monday night’s school board meeting.
A quick drive around Chesapeake left me surprised that the town would be home to a proud Satanic group. It wasn’t just City Hall that lit up for Christmas; the neighborhood surrounding the Chesapeake Municipal Center saw entire blocks of homes beaming with coordinated light displays celebrating the holiday. A quick Google Maps search told me that there were at least twenty churches within a five mile radius of the Public Schools building.
A woman standing in line next to me, whose name I didn’t catch, told me that she believes Chesapeake’s vibrant faith community is precisely why the Satanic Temple targeted them.
“They are doing this because they know that we are a strong community and that our community stands with God,” she said. “It’s a test.”
A police officer outside of the Chesapeake School Board building was handing out paper slips to anyone in line who wanted to sign up to speak at the meeting. Once inside, attendees had to go through a metal detector, and there were several more police officers stationed inside the meeting room. Overall, a diverse crowd of about 200 people showed up for the meeting; more than sixty spoke. The public comment period lasted over three hours.
The Satanic Temple only starts After School Satan Clubs at public schools that also have active Christian clubs, supposedly in a bid to poke at religious liberty laws and threaten school boards with legal action if they don’t comply. There are six other ASSCs throughout the country. In Chesapeake, the Satanic Temple was summoned by a local parent due to the creation of a “Good News Club,” an evangelical fellowship program for children. Parents must sign a permission slip in order for their children to attend. After the ASSC’s first parent sponsor withdrew their name, another took their place and resubmitted the group’s application.
Despite identifying as a religious group, the Satanic Temple says they do not worship Satan as a supernatural figure, and only use the ASSCs as ways to expose children to critical thinking skills, science and the arts. However, the real goal of the ASSC is seemingly to create enough controversy that school boards decide to cancel all after-school clubs, including Christian ones.
Several speakers at Monday’s meeting, including volunteers with the Good News Club, warned of this potential outcome. Instead of shutting down after school clubs, they suggested community members respond to the Satanic Temple’s antagonism with prayer, regular Church attendance and even more Christian clubs.
“We want to commend Chesapeake for supporting free speech,” one sponsor of a local Good News Club said. “A critical part of their strategy is to inflame emotions… they want schools and parents to react by shutting down all after school clubs.”
“Gather, pray,” another said. “I don’t need the Chesapeake School Board — I need God.”
Most of the anti-ASSC speakers acknowledged the legal challenges of shutting down the group, but still urged the Chesapeake School Board to find some way to reject the club. One individual questioned if the Satanic Temple can truly count as a religious organization subject to legal protections if they only view Satan as a “literary figure.” Another asked if the School Board would be compelled to accept an after school club application from a group that used Hitler as a symbol, a comparison that a Satanic Temple member later rejected as “offensive.”
The Chesapeake Public Schools Building Use policy states that a request may be rejected if it “is judged not to be in the best interest of the school and community or would result in an unacceptable risk.”
A particularly impassioned speaker begged the Chesapeake School Board to shut down the club’s application, “damn the consequences.”
“If it means we got to go to court and fight, then go to court,” the man said, “Roe v. Wade was ‘settled law’ until a few months ago.”
Several Chesapeake residents lamented the fact that the After School Satan Club was bringing more controversy and divisiveness to the city just weeks after six people were killed at the local Walmart. An older woman teared up as she spoke about leaving the Walmart just minutes before the shooter, who left a manifesto stating that he committed the heinous act because he had been lead astray by Satan, opened fire. She feared what would happen if Satanic imagery were subsequently allowed in public school buildings.
About a dozen of the attendees were with the Satanic Temple. They sat together in the front left of the room. Most of them had brightly colored hair, dark, gothic clothing, facial piercings and tattoos. One exception was June Everett, a petite blonde woman who is an ordained minister with the Satanic Temple. Everett flew in from Colorado for the meeting and said she got involved with the Temple because Good News Club members “traumatized” her son by telling him that he was going to burn in Hell.
Several of the Temple members snickered to one another as the Christians spoke at the podium and shook their heads emphatically at the descriptions of the ASSC. At one point, a speaker held up disturbing Facebook posts from a local ASSC sponsor who goes by the pseudonym “Rose Bastet”, including one meme that depicted a baby in an oven. The gaggle of Satanic Temple members burst into laughter at the photo. A Chesapeake School Board member said he understands the group is trying to “sensationalize”, but warned them that if they disrupted the meeting again they would be removed.
Some Temple members used their time at the podium to defend the club, but seemed equally as interested in airing their personal grievances against Christianity. One speaker insisted that Christians are “unhinged” hypocrites who sexually abuse children. Others said that they had been bullied and threatened by Chesapeake community members who wanted them to withdraw the club’s application. One young man alleged that the Good News Clubs only have members because parents use them for free childcare.
They nearly all concluded their remarks with “Hail, Satan!” as their comrades in the audience held up the sign of the horns. They reveled in the negative reaction like teenagers telling edgy jokes for the first time.
The most bombastic Satanist speakers stormed out of the meeting after they finished. One member named Lacy emphatically said to a group of Christians on her way out, “You don’t have to like it, but you have to respect it!”
A woman replied simply, “No, we don’t.”
After the more than three-hour public comment period Monday night, Chesapeake Public Schools superintendent Dr. Jared Cotton said that the board needed to review the ASSC’s application and conduct a safety assessment before making a final decision on their ability to use public building space. This could mean a delay to the ASSC’s first planned meeting on December 15. Whatever the School Board decides, the parents of Chesapeake made clear that they don’t intend to let the club through without a fight.