How “Satan Clubs” Advance Militant Secularism’s War on Religious Freedom

by | Feb 25, 2024 | Culture War

A little-known extremist group has wormed its way into schools across the country with one goal: Forcing genuine religious groups out. And they’re using satanic imagery to do it.

PART TWO in a series—read PART ONE here

Zooming out from individual Satan clubs, their most concerning quality is the broad, loose, but committed network of allies and endorsers that digging into them reveals.

This network begins but doesn’t end with Katherine Stewart, who in 2012 published a book on the Good News Clubs subtitled: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children. It was published by PublicAffairs, founded by veteran editor Peter Osnos, who comes from a left-wing background and has both published works by and edited a comprehensive biography of George Soros, America’s leading philanthropic “global citizen” who aims to “escape from the particular” of religion and ethnicity. Osnos also served on the board of Human Rights Watch, heavily funded by Soros, which mostly shares his aims.

Around the same time, Stewart’s husband Matthew wrote the book Nature’s God, which argued against considerable evidence that the real radicalism of the American founding came from leaders who wanted to “liberate” Americans from the “tyranny of supernatural religion.” The book was promoted by university-linked thinkers with aligned views, and it landed on the longlist for the National Book Award, whose selection committee was headed by a historian later known for backing the revisionist 1619 Project—another scholarly boondoggle supporting national government growth.  

When it comes to political advocacy, there are several allied nonprofits at work. These include the Alliance for Separation of Church and State, which named Katherine Stewart its person of the year in 2014, and was originally founded by liberal Protestants in 1948; another maneuver in a  of a century-long campaign to stop public funding to Catholic schools, sometimes by restricting all aid to parochial schools at the state level.

Another is also the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, which  “inform[s] changes in policy and practice to reduce and eliminate the use of punitive discipline” in the name of what the supportive Satanic Temple calls “bodily autonomy.”

In practice, this means pushing for legislation backed by Democrats like Sens. Patty Murray (WA) and Christopher Murphy (CT) that expands the national government’s control over schools. The Alliance is also supportive of Trauma-informed practices and Social Emotional Learning, e.g. diverting government money to schools to develop students’ personalities and “identities,” justifying concepts ranging from Critical Race Theory to transgender identity.

Where do Secularists’ Loyalties Lie?

When it comes to their backgrounds, many Satanists and their allies are part-time intellectuals who wield “irreverence” as a weapon, bolstered by more accredited figures or institutions. Their professional careers suggest commitments to “marching-to-their-own-beat,” but always in context of bigger, sometimes contradictory affiliations to the universities, corporate consultancies, nonprofits, political consultancies, and social good startups that collect where government money flows.

Matthew Stewart is an ex-consultant who wrote a book criticizing the management consulting industry; he’s also written often for the Atlantic, funded until recently by consultancy money flowing from Washington.

Guy Stephens, founder of the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, was Director of Web Development at University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science from 2009–2022.

Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, describes herself as “an advocate for racial justice” who has “worked with schools . . . to challenge racism and expose privilege.” Before assuming her current position, she worked for the Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism, where she “ran interfaith campaigns on LGBTQ+ equality, immigration reform, gun-violence prevention” and then “directed the Culture Program at Third Way, a Washington, D.C., progressive think tank” where “she launched the ‘Come Let Us Reason Together’ Initiative.”

Satanist founders Greaves and Jarry met at a Harvard event in 2012 when Greaves was 36 and Jarry 45; Jarry was taking graduate classes there while Greaves, who also uses the name “Douglas Mesner” was doing “some odd jobs.”

Their loyalties, in other words, are not to the kingdom of God but to the kingdom of bureaucracy and debt-funded national investment. All of them speak that kingdom’s language of liberation and democracy—but the function of the policies they support are the exact opposite of both.

The Real Power Worshippers

In fact, all of these people worship their own kind of power—the power of government-underwritten administrators and experts who define the dictates of rationalism and science. It’s not a coincidence that Katherine Stewart’s follow-up book to The Good News Club was The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, which became a documentary produced by Rob Reiner and was a jumping-off point for her arguing in the New York Times that “the Religious Right’s hostility to science is crippling our coronavirus response.”

Along the same lines is Satanic Temple of Minnesota’s pronouncement that it “will not grant religious exemptions for [COVID] vaccinations” because, though “[Satanist] Tenets III and IV state that one’s body is inviolable . . . vaccinations are an issue of public as opposed to individual health.” At the national level this policy holds true: SatanCon, held in Boston in April 2023, required attendees to “have proof of Covid vaccination” and to “wear an N-95, KN-95, or disposable surgical mask.”

Evidence like this shows that, though Satanists may talk about representing “the solidarity of outsiders” they’re loyal to what’s becoming the ultimate “insider” club: the national government and the institutions it underwrites. They might call the Satan the “ultimate questioner of authority,” but they’re committed to expanding national institutions’ often-coercive power.

And their networks extend to people operating in another anti-religious tradition, like Matthew Stewart and his endorsers, Peter Osnos and the Alliance for the Separation of Church and State, which drove the creation of many of the very national institutions now handing down anti-religious mandates while discriminating against Evangelicals and Catholics.

One likely reason these institutional players have always opposed religious “enthusiasts,” as Stewart calls them, is because “enthusiasts’” belief in divinely ordained rights makes them skeptics of institutional dictates. This skepticism is one reason that evangelicals and Catholics fought back against arbitrary elitist agendas beginning in the Revolutionary period. It’s also a reason that Christian and Muslim believers are key opponents of expanding national power on issues ranging from COVID vaccines to LGBT instruction in schools today.  

Fighting Back

In the face of Satan clubs operating at the forefront of this agenda, how should traditional religionists and allies who support the role of faith in public life respond?

Since the Supreme Court isn’t un-incorporating the Bill of Rights from the states, and despite compelling arguments is unlikely to rule that Satan clubs aren’t religious expression, the Establishment Clause remains believers’ best hope for restoring the old option of religious involvement in public schools. The cost is that schools must allow Satan clubs as well. But the clubs are no more statist nor indoctrinating than LGBTQ+ instruction, CRT, and SEL—so coexisting with them seems like the practical move.

At the same time, believers and supporters should hone their own arguments to clarify for students where Satan clubs lead. It’s not toward free-thinking rebellion. It’s toward a commitment to a specific kind of power that, unlike traditional religious alternatives, is extremely worldly, ultimately conformist, explicitly national, and potentially absolute.

Matt Wolfson, an investigative journalist, writes at oppo-research.com and tweets @Ex__Left.

(READ MORE: Making Students Into Subjects: One Mom’s Fight to Defeat Woke SEL Activists)

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