Members of a satanic temple are scheduled to give the opening “prayer” at a meeting of the Phoenix City Council next month, triggering a controversy about religious freedom and whether a satanist invocation is appropriate.
Satanists Michelle Shortt and Stu de Haan submitted a request to give the invocation at the February 17 meeting of the council, reports AZCentral.com. Though members of the city council objected to such a “prayer,” the city has decided to let the satanists continue as scheduled.
Phoenix City Attorney Brad Holm released a statement Thursday evening, defending the city’s position on the issue.
“Consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s direction, the city cannot dictate religious viewpoints or the content of a prayer,” Holm wrote. “In addition, government may not exclude a denomination or a religion from praying under these circumstances.”
The invocation at the start of Phoenix City Council meetings has been given by representatives of various faiths, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Sikhism.
De Haan, who resides in Tucson, said he submitted the request to give the invocation to ensure representation by minority voices. He said his satanic temple does “not believe in a literal Satan” but instead views the biblical Satan as “a metaphor for rebellion against tyranny.”
“We’re citizens of this government and we would like our voices to be heard,” de Haan said. “If they don’t want to accept, constitutionally what must happen is that all voices must be taken down from the public forum. It’s basically all voices must be heard or none at all.”
De Haan added the satanists “don’t intend on doing anything offensive.”
Councilman Jim Waring, however, said he believes the city should have rejected the satanic temple’s request and leave its members to deal with the issue in court. He added that having satanists give the invocation is intended to be offensive to city residents, and questioned whether the move is actually a ploy to push the city to stop conducting any prayer at council meetings at all.
“Frankly, I don’t know that we should be capitulating so readily to this,” Waring said. “I do think standing on principle has merit. I’ll probably just leave.”
Councilman Sal DiCiccio took to Twitter on Thursday, calling the decision, “Another dumb idea by the city…” [TWEET]
Politically correct PHX politicians pushing SATANIC PRAYER about to get pushed back. I move to block Satanic prayer https://t.co/P7XjfOzjxI
— Sal DiCiccio (@Sal_DiCiccio) January 30, 2016
On Saturday Associated Press reported four members of the city council are determined to seek immediate approval of a proposal that would stop the “prayer” by the satanists.
City Manager Ed Zuercher reportedly said Friday the council will consider a plan to alter the process the city uses to schedule groups that provide the invocation. Under the proposal, the mayor and city council members would choose the prayer leader on a rotating basis, a rule that de Haan says is discriminatory and would violate the Constitution.
Mayor Greg Stanton and Councilwoman Kate Gallego said they support the satanists’ invocation. Stanton released a statement, saying, “[T]he Constitution demands equal treatment under the law,” though he reportedly also indicated he disagrees with the message of the satanic temple.
Gallego cited the First Amendment saying, “I just believe we’re a diverse society and if we have prayer, we welcome all points of view.”