The Phoenix (AZ) City Council Will Now Allow Only Christian Chaplains to Give Invocation Prayers

It was just over a month 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 as soon as word got out about this, city officials tried to put the genie back in the bottle.

In late January, 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.

This was a lawsuit waiting to happen. If city council members got to pre-approve invocation speakers, what hope would 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 could give that wouldn’t exclude some group of people.

If their goal was to shut out The Satanic Temple, they were going to waste a lot of taxpayer money fighting a losing legal battle.

And the pushback worked! A few days later, the council members announced that they would replace the invocation with a moment of silence. The move essentially prevented the Satanists from speaking, but the end result was still the preferred outcome: No invocations at all.

And that’s where we were at… until last night.

Phoenix City Council members voted 7-2 Wednesday night to restore a spoken prayer at council meetings, but the invocation would have to be given exclusively by chaplains for the police and fire departments.

So now we’re back to something unconstitutional: The City Council will only allow Christian chaplains to deliver the prayers.

To be clear, the vote was mostly on the idea of bringing back the invocation. They haven’t actually written or adopted the ordinance that a group like the Satanic Temple could then point to in a lawsuit. That vote is scheduled for a few weeks from now.

What’s really sad is that City Attorney Brad Holm thinks this new rule would pass constitutional muster:

“The answer is it’s constitutional in accordance with a long line of cases, so the probabilities are that it would be upheld by a court,” Holm said of Wednesday’s council decision. “But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be challenged in this particular case, and I’d rather not say in open session what I suspect the outcome of a challenge (would be).”

That almost sounds contradictory… but I’ll help him out.

It’s this sort of exclusionary policy that leads atheists and Satanists to 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.

If this ordinance moves forward, you can bet every church/state separation group in the country will be itching to file the lawsuit since it’s a sure-fire win.

The Satanic Temple just issued a brief statement on Twitter:


Get your popcorn. This battle is just heating up.

(Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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.