Members of the Satanic Temple don't actually believe in Satan.
They're more like atheists who follow ethical precepts and embrace the devil as a symbol of independence -- and as a bit of a provocation aimed at organized religion.
That's some of what they explained Wednesday afternoon to parents at Tacoma's Point Defiance Elementary School. Members of the temple's Seattle chapter hosted an open house that kicked off Washington state's first After School Satan club.
Eleven adults and nine children spent about two hours in the meeting, attendees said. School officials did not allow reporters inside.
Temple leaders said parents questioned them about the group's beliefs -- including whether they sacrifice children. (They don't).
Topher Welsh, who has two children at the school, said the conversation was respectful and he came out impressed.
"They're very well spoken," he said of the club's organizers. "They very blatantly said they do not believe in a literal Satan."
Satanic Temple leaders say they plan to teach children critical thinking and science. But their monthly club is also an act of protest against an evangelical after-school group, the Good News Club, that also has a chapter at Point Defiance.
The Satanic Temple's argument is if you allow Christianity in school, you have to let in Satan, too. Temple leaders say the Tacoma club is the second such chapter in the nation, after one in Portland, Ore.
Welsh said he agrees that religion has no place in school. But he said he doubts he'll enroll his kids in After School Satan. He said he's worried about a stigma.
"I really want to belong to this community," he said. "I love the community of the North End here. But along with that, there's a lot of religion around here as well. I don't know which of my kids' friends' parents are religious, their teachers are religious, their principals are religious."
Several people opposed to the club gathered and prayed outside the school while the open house was underway. Some expressed the mistaken belief that the club was about Satan worship.
"If they're atheists, then that's one thing, but if they're claiming to worship the devil then that's another thing altogether," said Father Nicholas Wichert, pastor of two Catholic churches in Tacoma, Holy Rosary Church and Visitation Church.
In fact, After School Satan's first meeting in January is more about developing self-esteem, said Lilith Starr, who leads the Satanic Temple of Seattle. "We're going to do a group bonding and confidence-building exercise where children will learn to give each other 'put-ups' instead of put-downs," she said. So far, one child has signed up.