Just weeks after it was announced that The Satanic Temple-Arizona had been invited to give an invocation at one of this year’s Sahuarita, AZ Town Council meetings the town appears to be having a change of heart.
On Monday January 28th, before officially calling the meeting to order, Mayor Tom Murphy made a seemingly innocuous announcement:
“Prior to the invocation tonight I do have an announcement, beginning with the next regularly scheduled Town Council meeting the leadership from the town will present the traditional invocation before each regular meeting of the town council. A different member of town leadership will be selected to give the invocation prior to each meeting. The invocation will be given by the men and women who are leading the town and it’s employees into a new and exciting decade of service to our citizens. And I wanted to thank all of those who have volunteered in the past to lead our invocation and your service is greatly appreciated.”
Technically speaking, that sounds harmless enough doesn’t it? Just a small policy change. Albeit one that was apparently never voted on, brought up for public comment, or otherwise discussed in public at all prior to the announcement being made. That’s not all though.
Since the announcement last month that the Arizona Chapter of The Satanic Temple (TST) had been scheduled to give an upcoming invocation this September, this rule change seems to be a direct attempt to exclude the group from engaging in the ceremonial tradition which, until Monday, has been open to anyone who requested to participate.
Local paper the Sahuarita Sun’s Andrew Paxton wrote that Mayor Murphy told reporters that he, Vice Mayor Kara Egbert and Town Manager Kelly Udall would discuss who would speak at each meeting from now on, and that he claims sole authority to decide who gets to speak and set the agenda at meetings.
The Mayor also provided the paper with several emails he received denouncing the decision to schedule TST-AZ to give the invocation, but claims the change in policy is being done now in recognition of the new year and the town’s 25th anniversary.
Unlike Phoenix, which also changed its policy in response to a scheduled Satanic invocation, no attempt to do away with invocations before reinstating a new policy was enacted. Additionally, according to representatives from TST-AZ there has been no notification that the policy would change or that their prior invitation has been rescinded. The group only became aware of the new rule Tuesday morning when their attorney and media liaison Stu De Haan received a voicemail from the press asking for comment.
“The town’s invitation, extended to The Satanic Temple, to give an invocation may have turned into an invitation for a lesson on Constitutional law,” said De Haan in a message. Though it’s too early to say what, if any, action TST-AZ will pursue. In fact, whether or not the move by Sahuarita passes muster may hinge on the outcome of TST-AZ’s existing lawsuit against the City of Scottsdale, which is a case of first impression. For a small town to take such big gamble on a point of unsettled law seems risky. More importantly, this situation highlights how invocation policies are being manipulated by more powerful church interests to exclude minority voices from their communities.