The Phoenix (AZ) City Council Is Now Trying to Block Satanists from Delivering Invocation Prayers

It was just a couple of days ago that we learned the Phoenix (Arizona) City Council had given the green light to members of The Satanic Temple to deliver an invocation prayer at a meeting on February 17.

Satanic Templars Michelle Shortt (below) and Stu de Haan would be delivering the address:

Shortt

But now that word has gotten out about this, city officials are frantically trying to put the genie back in the bottle.

On Friday night, council members held an “emergency meeting” that would shut the door to the Satanists. Instead of having an open forum where anyone could request a date to deliver an invocation prayer, they want to create a rotating system where invocation speakers would have to be pre-approved.

City Manager Ed Zuercher said in a statement Friday night that, at the council members’ request, he would add an agenda item for next Wednesday’s meeting that would change the way the city schedules groups that lead the prayer.

The current system allows groups to call the city clerk’s office to schedule a date. The new system would mimic what the state legislature does: The mayor and eight council members would select the prayer leader on a rotating basis.

The four council members — Jim Waring; Sal DiCiccio; Bill Gates; and Michael Nowakowski — want the new rule adopted with an emergency clause, allowing it to take effect within 24 hours. Waring told 12 News that the Satanists would then be disinvited.

While the exact wording of the new proposal isn’t available yet, this is a lawsuit waiting to happen. If city council members get to pre-approve invocation speakers, what hope will there be for non-Christians? What ratio would they even use — three Christians and a Jew on loop? Christian, Hindu, Christian, Muslim? There’s no answer you can give that wouldn’t exclude some group of people.

If their goal is to shut out The Satanic Temple, they’re going to be wasting a lot of taxpayer money fighting a losing legal battle.

The current system of allowing anyone to speak if they request it is fair and fine. If council members don’t want Satanists to speak, the only option they have is ending invocation prayers altogether.

Lucien Greaves, spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, sent me this statement in response to tonight’s meeting:

We have learned that the City Counsel of Phoenix convened a closed “emergency” session in which they considered legal options by which they might justify the exclusion of The Satanic Temple from delivering an invocation, as scheduled, at the Feb. 17th meeting. We’ll leave it to journalists to determine the level of irony in the notion that our impending invocation might constitute an “emergency” when weighed against other items of local importance. However, we can assure you: there is no legal option for discrimination.

Local media informs us that the Council seeks to instate a new policy, and retroactively apply it to our application, that demands Phoenix City Council invocations are delivered by Phoenix residents only, and that invocations are delivered exclusively by a rotating list of pre-approved religious spokespeople.

As to the first issue, that of only allowing Phoenix residents — the fact is, we have members in Phoenix, and this new rule would not stop our invocation from occurring. Nonetheless, we feel that the local standard is arbitrary, and the government needs to demonstrate a “compelling interest” in instating an abridgment to a citizen’s First Amendment rights. We can think of no compelling interest to only allow invocations from residents of Phoenix, and not residents of Tucson (who had intended to give our invocation).

As to the second issue, that of only allowing “approved” religious voices, it’s hilarious and disheartening at the same time to see such a level of Constitutional ignorance revealed in acting public officials. The move would clearly be legally indefensible, and we do not equivocate on this point: should the Phoenix City Counsel deny us our voice in the public forum, we will file suit.

Hopefully, the upshot of all the chaos and outrage that our forthcoming invocation is now causing will be a hard fast lesson in Constitutional Law for our bloated, puzzled, and mentally atrophied theocrats. We reserve the hope that their tribalist supporters will view future attempts to break the wall of separation of Church and State more critically. When the public forum is opened to one religious voice, it is opened to them all. That is the very definition of Religious Liberty, and that is the nature of pluralism. Let us hope that reasonable people can look to this situation and recognize that, ultimately, the beliefs and practices of The Satanic Temple are irrelevant in the question of our Constitutional Rights.

It simply is not the place of the Government to act as arbiter of what constitutes “legitimate” religious or political speech in the public forum.

We see too clearly that exclusive privilege breeds contemptuous arrogance and incurious minds. When “God’s” militants take up the cross as a bludgeon to impose their tyrannical whims, what shall the advocates for liberty be called…?

We are Satanists, and we consider ourselves invited every time the public square is opened to religious expression.

This, by the way, is exactly why atheists and Satanists keep asking to deliver invocations in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Greece v. Galloway. We know it makes people uncomfortable. But that’s too bad. Government officials just have to get used to it. If they can’t handle invocations that don’t honor their personal faith, well, that’s what we have to go through every time a Christian speaks.

Either everyone gets to speak in turn or no one gets to. That’s what the law is. The Phoenix City Council will not be able to get around that, no matter how hard they try.

It’s also very telling, I should add, that the councilors have no idea what the Satanists planned to say next month. They want to block them from speaking despite not knowing what the prayer will be. That’s some crystal-clear prejudice for you.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X