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Taylorsville • Utah's first After School Satan Club kicked off with an open house Wednesday at Vista Elementary School.
The club, for children between the ages of 5 and 12, encourages students to think critically and have a scientific understanding of the world around them, according to Chalice Blythe, Utah chapter head for The Satanic Temple.
"Kids naturally have that ability to be curious and question things," Blythe said. "We're basically just saying we should bolster that."
The Salem, Mass.-based Satanic Temple announced in July that it would launch a nationwide after-school program for elementary students, in part as a counterpoint to Bible- and Christian-themed groups that hold events at public schools.
Programming for the club at the Taylorsville school will be academic and educational, Blythe said, and would not include lessons on Satanism.
Granite School District denied The Salt Lake Tribune's request to attend and photograph the open house Wednesday afternoon.
The district also sent a letter home to parents on Tuesday, encouraging those concerned about the club to contact their representatives in the state Legislature.
The letter did not specifically identify the After School Satan Club, but reminded parents that Utah law allows private entities to rent space within public schools.
"Additionally, private rental programs and activities are NOT sponsored or endorsed by the school or district," the letter stated. "If your student is approached on campus by ANY private group or rental tenant, please contact your principal immediately."
District spokesman Ben Horsley said Wednesday that parents of one student requested that the child be unenrolled from Vista Elementary because of the club.
Blythe said she wasn't surprised that parents would push back against the club. But she added that concerns are based on a misunderstanding of the Satanic Temple and Satanism.
"We are nontheistic, we don't actually worship a literal Satan," Blythe said. "We're very aware that not everyone is going to understand what it's about. They'll see the word 'Satan' and just make assumptions."
Blythe said Vista Elementary was chosen to host Utah's After School Satan Club due to its central location within Salt Lake County, and because the school continues to rent space to religious groups such as the Good News Club, a program of the Child Evangelism Fellowship.
"If you are going to invite religion into schools you have to invite everybody," Blythe said. "You can't just say one is good and the other is bad."
Moises Esteves, a spokesman for the Child Evangelism Fellowship, said Satanists and the organizers of the After School Satan Club are "very confused folk."
"They're compelled by their despise of God and despise of anything Christian," he said.
Esteves said the Satan clubs were motivated less by a desire to educate and help children and more as a political tool.
"It's a parody, it's a publicity stunt," he said. "Their strategy is to scare the daylights out of the school system."
Blythe acknowledges there is a political calculus to the clubs, which highlight the sometimes blurry lines separating church and state.
But any pressure to change the laws that govern use of public spaces is secondary, she said, to encouraging children to rely on logic and science in lieu of faith-based inquiry.
"If it wasn't sincere, then we'd be making an awareness campaign as opposed to putting all this time and effort into making a really good club for these kids," Blythe said. "At the same time, we do want people to question whether or not we should be allowing religious groups to be in our public schools."
The club "isn't a proselytizing thing," she said. "As opposed to the Good News Club, where they are evangelizing and trying to recruit kids."
Esteves said any Christian conversion that stems from the Good News Club is the result of biblical study.
"When you teach the Bible and you teach about Jesus, some children going to decide to be followers of Christ," he said. "Jesus Changes lives. For the last 2,000 years he has been doing that."
The After School Satan Club plans to meet at Vista Elementary on the second Wednesday of each month until the school year ends, Blythe said. The program is free for students but requires signed permission by a parent or guardian.
"We are completely open about what we're doing," Blythe said. "We have nothing to hide and we legitimately feel we are offering a really good curriculum for kids."