At last, the Tacoma Public Schools’ board has recognized the obvious educational potential of the Prince of Darkness.  For years, this hopelessly hidebound and reactionary institution has restricted itself to providing what it calls “a welcoming, nurturing environment [to] . . . provide the knowledge and skills for students to become respectful, responsible life-long learners and citizens.”  As of Christmas week 2016, however, the infernal one’s teachings are now freely available to local kids of all ages, alongside more traditional after-hours recreational activities involving the use of Play-Doh or tabletop soccer.  All you need to do is present yourself any Wednesday afternoon at the aptly named Point Defiance Elementary School and submit there to the clammy embrace of the state’s first fully fledged preteen Satan Club.  It meets right after dismissal, and its welcoming logo is a couple of brightly colored crayons adorned with a pair of devil’s horns.  You couldn’t make this up.

It is often said that our nation’s social-engineering laws are for the most part well intentioned, and that only in their local application do they seem to pander so brazenly to the obsessed or the lunatic.  For some months in the past, Point Defiance Elementary has also played host to an after-school Good News Club, a nationwide Christian program developed by the Missouri-based Child Evangelism Fellowship.  It meets on Tuesday afternoons at the school, one of a handful of Good News Clubs and other “traditional worship groups” (as the News Tribune daily paper puts it) within the Tacoma public-school system.

This is where the “equal time” or “balanced treatment” laws come in.  Tacoma’s school superintendent, Carla Santoro, has told parents who might be concerned by the lingering whiff of sulfur in the Point Defiance hallways on a Thursday morning that the satanists’ presence among them is all part of the modern epidemic of “inclusivity” we’ve unleashed upon ourselves.  Specifically, it follows on from Washington state’s 1984 Equal Access Act, which apparently forces the school board in question to allow the use of its facilities “for meetings, whether public, literary, scientific, religious, political, mechanical, agricultural or whatever.”  (It’s the “whatever” that most strikes me about this finely honed legal argument.)  “This means [the Board] cannot distinguish between groups who meet on our premises for activities not directly related to the school curriculum,” Santoro explains.  It’s not immediately clear why the cultists took 32 years to seize the exciting new possibilities this statute would seem to offer, but perhaps they have merely been playing the long game.  It somehow fails to come as a surprise to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court has also since ruled in the case of Good News v. Milford Central School that schools operate a “limited public forum” and that, as such, “they may not discriminate should a religious organization wish to operate an After-School Club on their premises,” a courtesy extended equally to those who choose to convene on moonlit nights in hooded covens as to those favoring a more orthodox interpretation of man’s purpose on the planet.

“I was worried people might be scared away,” says Lilith Starr, organizer of the Tacoma chapter of the Satanic Temple, referring to the forces of oppression represented by half a dozen teenaged members of the nearby Holy Rosary Catholic Church, who were on hand to accost the free-spirited young diabolists on their inaugural meeting at Point Defiance.  She said the debut event drew an encouraging 11 adults and 9 kids.  These were larger numbers than turned up at a recent after-school Satan Club affair in Portland, Oregon, Starr noted, adding that “things were off to a great start.”  There were more protesters standing in the rain to greet the cultists’ second meeting the following Wednesday, and pretty soon the local TV-news crews were also in attendance, and from there it was a short hop to the likes of NPR and several other national media outlets.  Up until last Thanksgiving, Point Defiance was a generally quiet little enclave with four or five churches, a quaint 19th-century trading post, and a zoo.  After the satanists moved in, and particularly after the TV-news trucks rolled up, it has become more like the setting for one of those Roger Corman movies where the decent folk are suddenly invaded by Hells Angels.

Opinion among local residents and school parents seems equally divided on the issue.  John Ritchie, a practicing Roman Catholic, and thus representing orthodoxy, said that the satanic group “attacks God, undermines moral values, and foments disrespect for legitimate authority.”  He added: “Satan was the first rebel,” which perhaps explains the core appeal.  Set against this, however, was the scrupulously fair-minded Topher [sic] Welsh, who has two young children at Point Defiance Elementary.  He said the satanists “aren’t scary . . . They are just people who don’t believe in religion.  They’re a group that doesn’t want to see indoctrination in schools.  And I feel the same way.”  Another parent, Nathan Finch, said he might well drop his two young sons off at the Club after school “just to broaden their minds.”  Behind this courteous, Augustan assumption that most reasonably discerning ten-year-olds can understand and process most issues if impartially presented to them lies perhaps the more practical allure of the Club’s invitation: “Come by, meet your local Satanists, and learn more about what we do and how to get involved,” their published manifesto read.  “All are welcome.  Cookies and soda provided!”

Readers may feel that a fringe after-school playgroup attended by 11 misguided souls and their offspring on a wet Wednesday afternoon in Tacoma is hardly the end of Western civilization as we know it.  And I would tend to agree with them.  So why does it all matter?  Because the chumps who brought the Satan Club to my area are yet another small but poignant reminder that the sacred in our lives is a vanishing phenomenon, and that we are all the worse for it.  In our secular culture, birth and death have been reduced to biological facts, with no spiritual significance, while the act of physical union between a man and a woman has long since become just another plot device to those who peddle lurid movies and depraved video games to our children.  Marriage, too, has lost its sacramental meaning, now that a relatively few malcontents and their enablers in the media have succeeded in imposing their new definition of the word upon the rest of us.  For many people, the experience of school as a place where self-restraint, deference, and mutual respect go hand in hand with academic excellence and a deepening sense of life’s spiritual journey is but a memory.

The Satan Club of Tacoma, Washington, may be a joke.  But it is another small sign of a society that is dying spiritually—or, rather, committing spiritual suicide, having lost the will to live.