The Satanic Temple-Arizona’s Religious Claims Valid, Scottsdale Snub was “Administrative Decision” Court Finds

The Satanic Temple-Arizona’s Religious Claims Valid, Scottsdale Snub was “Administrative Decision” Court Finds February 6, 2020

After four long years, The Satanic Temple (TST)-Arizona’s day in court over being disinvited to give an invocation by the City of Scottsdale has come to an end. While the judge found that Scottsdale’s action was not provably discriminatory, the court did reaffirm TST’s legitimate standing as a religion.

Court Accepts City Manager’s Testimony

The Satanic Temple-Arizona’s Legal Counsel and Plaintiffs. Image via Twitter @LucienGreaves

During the trial Scottsdale’s then City Manager established that it was their decision to revoke the invitation claiming that TST-Arizona lacked “substantial community ties”. From the ruling:

“When Mr. Biesemeyer learned about the issue regarding Plaintiffs’ proposed invocation, he contacted the City Attorney’s office for guidance. That office researched the matter and informed Mr. Biesemeyer that the City had a longstanding practice of permitting invocations only by organizations that have substantial ties to the City. The practice was not contained in a written policy and, to Mr. Biesemeyer’s knowledge, had never been used to deny an invocation request, but the City Attorney advised him that it was a longstanding practice. Mr. Biesemeyer understood the practice to mean that an organization had to be located in the general metropolitan area and have a substantial number of City residents as members.”

So basically, the judge had to make a decision. The City Manager’s assertion is that their actions were lawful because they did not discriminate against TST for being a Satanists, but because based on their determination TST-AZ did not meet the unwritten and nebulous standard of having “substantial” ties to the community. That, to me, raises a whole lot of other questions for another time, but let’s talk about the positive part of the ruling.

The Satanic Temple is Most Definitely a “Real” Religion

“…the Court concludes that Ms. Shortt’s beliefs and practices are religious for purposes of her religious discrimination claims. These beliefs and practices would also be considered religious under other cases.”

Remember, the court definitely confirmed that Satanism as practiced by The Satanic Temple and its adherents is most assuredly and definitely a religion that is entitled to all the freedoms and liberties of any other religious tradition. All this case established is that TST was not discriminated against for religious reasons. At best, as far as the case is concerned it basically affirms a city’s ability to discriminate against invocation speakers for geographic grounds I guess.

It’s a disheartening loss, as a member of the TST-Arizona community this case has been a unifying experience that helped to bring many of us together in unimaginable ways. Perhaps ironically, TST-AZ is likely far better able to demonstrate our community ties to the Valley of the Sun now than it ever would have been if Scottsdale had just let the invocation go forward with no fuss and bother. I asked TST’s legal Counsel Stu De Haan for his response to the loss and he provided me with the following statement:

“Though disappointing, this ruling hinged on a factual issue rather than a legal failure on the part of The Satanic Temple. The Court rejected the City’s claims that we are an illegitimate religion and that we failed to show that we had legal standing to sue. Instead, the Court accepted the City’s claim that this decision was purely administrative and not made at the request or by the influence of the City Council and Mayor.

Despite evidence showing the brazen and outward disdain and assertions that this minority religion would not be given a rightful place at the table because of their religion, the Court found that there was not sufficient evidence to tie this to the ultimate decision. Of course, we very much disagree. We will discuss whether or not to bring this dispute to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals moving forward. This ruling will in no way impact other ongoing litigation as these situations tend to be very fact specific.” – Stu De Haan

Find out More on TST-TV!

Those of us who were in attendance for the legal proceedings have also started to make video content for The Satanic Temple’s new video streaming platform thesatanictemple.tv. So after the court had dismissed and we awaited the judge’s ruling many of us sat down to record an episode of TST-TV’s news and information show The Devil’s Dispatch. If you really want to see the raw, unfiltered, opinions of how the case went from the plaintiffs and lawyers themselves I invite you to come check out that episode, along with all the other cool stuff that TST’s members and allies are doing. Plus the money goes to help fund TST’s efforts in their other ongoing efforts like their Reproductive Rights Campaign and the Arkansas Baphomet Lawsuit.

Check out TST-TV!

Full Ruling:

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

    It was never going to be easy to overthrow Christian privilege in the one country where it should never exist.

  • Tim Patterson

    Way to go! Thanks for fighting the good fight!

  • Anri

    It sounds very much as though the court’s ruling was, in essence, “Yes, you’re a religion, and no, the government is not supposed to disfavor one religion versus another, but we’re going to anyway because we don’t like you and think maybe other people don’t like you either.”
    Or did I miss something?

    Heck of a precedent.

  • I suggest that Satanists from all over the country go down to Scottsdale to hold a First Amendment rally. Better yet, we should find a small place to open a chapter in Scottsdale, to at least have a presence there so that the only objection would be taken away.

  • WallofSleep

    Nice to see you back, Jack. Hope the break was restful and productive.

  • abb3w

    A quick check with Zillow suggests that there is a one acre lot for sale in the area for approximately $40k. Installing a shed minimal code-compliant temple building might add another $10k. (Since the plumbing situation isn’t clear, it might be appropriate to budget a few grand more for the digging and building of a pair of outhouses.)

    It’s not clear setting up a stronger basis to claim “substantial ties” going forward in the future would be worth the expense in this particular instance. However, in the longer term it might be a worthwhile investment for the Satanic Temple to hire an architect specializing in “tiny homes” to design a set of “tiny temple” plans, to have something suitable ready to deploy whenever such construction might be appropriate.

    For more traditionally religious precedent for such, look up the “Living Water Wayside Chapel”.