Arizona Town Changes Invocation Policy After Satanic Temple Invitation

Arizona Town Changes Invocation Policy After Satanic Temple Invitation January 30, 2019

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.

Sahuarita Town Hall
Image Credit: User Musides via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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.

About Jack Matirko
Jack Matirko is an activist, blogger, and podcaster focussing on issues of church and state separation. He runs Patheos' Satanic Blog For Infernal Use Only (patheos.com/blogs/infernal), co-hosts the Naked Diner Podcast (patreon.com/nakeddiner), and is a member of The Satanic Temple-Arizona Chapter. His opinions are his own. To contribute to his work please consider becoming a patron of his podcast. You can read more about the author here.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jim Jones

    They’d better start saving up to pay the legal costs of the winners.

  • digital bookworm

    The costs should be paid by the three people who decided to change the policy without discussion or public comment.

  • Mythblaster

    You’d think there would be some kind of online bulletin board for town councils around the country to share ideas and experiences… perhaps even learn from others’ mistakes. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ac2e919f706240afe253141f3ec767865331b3f277a533d4ecdab941e0e1d066.gif
    These folks are further evidence that ya’ can’t fix stupid!

  • Edna Hakenson

    It’s all or none.

  • That funny reaction when their big cult is threatened by a little cult. God is only imagined, not real.

  • Mefistofele

    Let’s hope they can keep their invocations secular… ha ha! No chance!

  • Richard B

    How about a few moments of silence instead of some made up “prayer”? That should keep people happy. Let’s have an end to all this in-fighting.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    I assume they won’t have a Christian invocation/prayer. Jesus specifically said to not pray in public.

  • The invocation performed immediately after the announcement was given by a LDS minister so ….

  • That would be fine too as far as I’m concerned.

  • kurtmburger

    I’m not super clear on what the change is. I take it to mean ONLY elected officials on the coucil can deliver the invocation. This unequivocably and explicitly establishes a religious function to a public office. Not helping themselves much then.

  • Sophotroph

    Hey, people are going to have to learn not to elect people based on how many times they can cram their god into a speech.

    Or they can just be broke forever. That’s fine too.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    perhaps that is why some arizona christians are up in arms. someone criticized what they believe. cant have dissention among the ranks.