The announcement of a family movie night scheduled for February at Jefferson Forest High School’s auditorium has recently sparked some controversy.
A group called Friends of The Satanic Temple of Virginia, which is part of the nationwide Satanic Temple organization, recently announced its sponsorship of an event hosted by the After School Satan Club on Nov. 8.
A Lynchburg-area resident asked the After School Satan Club, through The Satanic Temple, if they could host some kind of family event, said June Everett, the club’s campaign manager.
So the organization arranged to show the 1992 animated feature “FernGully: The Last Rainforest” at JF’s auditorium on February 25. The screening of the film will be followed by a discussion of how it relates to three of the Seven Principles of The Satanic Temple, according to Everett, who is overseeing the coordination of the event.
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Everett said the Satanic Temple was created in response to the perceived rise of evangelical theocracy in government entities and facilities. The ASSC, likewise, was created in response to the Good News Club, run through the Child Evangelism Fellowship, she said. The evangelical organization operates this club in elementary schools where it is requested, according to the organization’s website.
Everett said the ASSC is not meant to be religiously focused — most Satanic Temple members are atheists who don’t believe in a supernatural or divine being/deity, she said. It was created to provide alternative programming for those who are not comfortable with the teachings and theology of the Good News Club. The organization uses the figure of Satan to promote rational and scientific viewpoints.
The chosen film relates to Principles 1, 2, and 6 of The Satanic Temple, Everett said, which are: “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason”; “The struggle for justice is a permanent and necessary pursuit that must prevail over laws and institutions;” and “People are fallible. If someone makes a mistake, they should do their best to rectify it and undo any damage that may have been caused.”
“We don’t go to communities where we don’t have relatives, or a member of the congregation, or a member of the community, or one of our supporters who doesn’t ask us to be there,” said Everett. “I was contacted by a community member from the city of Lynchburg who asked us, ‘OK, there is no After School Satan Club here, but there are a lot of events from different religions that take place in this particular school.’ And it was Jefferson Forest High School. [they] asked, ‘Could you do something? Could you just have a fun night out, some family event? »
The JF High School auditorium is rented to non-school-sponsored third-party organizations or individuals when the facility is not required for school-related use. A community congregation holds weekly church services in the space.
This isn’t the first time an event planned for JF High School’s auditorium has sparked controversy in the Bedford community.
A fundraiser for a drag show hosted by a JF alum named Kendall Knight, raising money to benefit JF’s drama program, had been held at JF High School’s auditorium for several years since the start. a spectacle. It had been supported by the program directors of the Cavalier Theater at JF and was sponsored by the school, contrary to a third party’s request to rent the facility for a movie night. After using the term “drag” in the title of the event for the first time in August, the show moved to the Academy Center of the Arts following an outcry from members of the Bedford community. The family-friendly, paid-for show ended up raising a record $11,000 for the school’s theater program.
The movie night announcement quickly drew mixed reactions of support and opposition.
“There are a lot of knee-jerk reactions right away,” Everett said. “We’re used to it, that’s for sure.”
David Beauregard, a resident of District 7, came to the November public comment period of the Bedford County School Board meeting, which was held just days after the event was initially announced, and said offered a prayer for the school board to stand firm against Satan.
On social media, some people objected to the idea of the Satanic Temple bringing an event to the area and decried it as an attack or infiltration of evil.
Others supported the event, expressing their gratitude and appreciation for the diversification of local event offerings.
Freda Easterly, who was “born and raised” in Bedford County, said in an interview that while she understands and respects First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and speech, and would not impose her own personal convictions to others, she cannot, like someone of Christian faith, support the movie night sponsored by The Satanic Temple.
She said she thought the event was “deplorable” and “an abomination”, although she knows some things have to change over time.
Easterly said she worries about at-risk and impressionable youth in the community who may already be struggling with a search for belonging, or substance use, broken homes and other factors. She also worried about young people not receiving a religious education at home, wondering where else they might find it. For her, the question also became, “Where does it end?”
“If this is to be allowed…what’s going to happen next? Is a group of bestiality going to present a movie night, or the pagans, the Hell’s Angels or the KKK? Will they be the welcome?” she says.
Bedford town resident Chris Burley said the community needs to be able to dialogue and tolerate beliefs that may not agree with their personal beliefs.
“It’s all just kind of silly, and it’s all designed to elicit a reaction,” he said. “We have become a nation of people who react and not a nation of people who think.”
Burley, who was a volunteer soldier in the army, described himself as “fairly conservative”, but said he recognizes that flexibility and change are needed.
“If we stay the same all the time and aren’t open to at least discussing other people’s opinions, we’re just going to stagnate. Our community is really fighting amongst itself because we don’t even want to listen to viewpoints. other people, and we have to at least be able to communicate,” he said. “We’ve become a bunch of people who call names and things of that nature just because we’re not even willing to admit that d ‘other people might have a different opinion from ours, and we need to change that. “
Burley said if anyone disagrees with the event, “don’t go.” Even if no one shows up for the event, the school system still receives money for facility rentals, he said.
Bedford resident Angelina Johnston Smith said she felt “if you want to open the door to any organization, whether religious or non-religious, you have to open it to everyone.
“It has to be all or nothing. You can’t just choose who you’re going to let use it, and who you’re not. I just think it has to be fair on all levels… That’s what our dads founders founded this country for: freedom of religion They did not say the freedom of a single religion.
Some who reacted to the movie night announcement pointed out that despite individual feelings about The Satanic Temple and the movie event, the law should be fair – whether a Christian church service or other Christian event might have place in public. facility, there could be no discrimination against another recognized religious entity that qualified to rent the same facility.
The school system’s failure to discriminate against a particular religious group was echoed in an official school division statement this week, on behalf of the school board and administration.
According to the Bedford County Public Schools KG Policy, Community Use of School Facilities, “the board shall not discriminate against any group on the basis of point of view or any other prohibited basis”.
The school division, in a statement released Wednesday, said it heard community members’ concerns and said this movie night, like other events hosted by outside organizations or people renting the auditorium, was not approved by the school division. The division is not involved in this type of event except for processing the facility use agreement in accordance with policy.
A landmark 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of the Good News Club set the legal precedent that requires equal access for all outside organizations, including religious organizations, to use school division facilities if the division has opened one of its facilities for use by outside organizations, so long as organizations or individuals unaffiliated with the school meet the requirements of divisional policies.
“School Board Policy KG does not authorize the school board to discriminate against any outside organization based on its views,” the BCPS statement said. “Prohibiting this organization from using the facility would place the school division in opposition to its own policy.”
There is no After School Satan Club operating in the Bedford County division, BCPS said.
Everett confirmed this and said there are currently only two such clubs – in Ohio and Illinois – active in the United States, and those in California and Ohio were recently approved. for the launch. Everett said they’re only operated in places that request their presence — usually schools that also invite the Good News Club.
When the CDSA and/or The Satanic Temple hold events, they often encounter at least some level of opposition in addition to support, Everett said.
Advance tickets for the movie night are required; they cost $10 per adult but are free for those under 18. For more information visit: donate.thesatanictemple.org.