In a move that blocks a Satanist group from giving the invocation at the next Phoenix City Council meeting, the council voted 5-4 Wednesday night to no longer open each meeting with a prayer. Instead, it will call for a moment of silence.
A member of the Satanic Temple from Tucson had been approved to give the opening invocation at the February 17 council meeting. But when the approval sparked outrage, council members decided to look into the way opening prayers come about.
They initially considered a proposal that would have allowed members to take turns inviting people from various religious groups to give the invocation. But Phoenix City Attorney Brad Holm warned that doing so would be viewed as an “as applied violation” of the First Amendment and, therefore, subject the city to a lawsuit.
“Our view as the City Attorney’s Office — and my view personally — is that we would be likely to lose that case,” he told the council before the vote.
The Satanic Temple had threatened to sue if its representative was prohibited from opening the next official meeting on the 17th. Nobody from the temple commented at the meeting Wednesday on what the organization will do now that prayer has been eliminated.
Councilman Sal DiCiccio opposed the decision, vowing to overturn it by collecting the required number of signatures to put prayer at the meetings on an election ballot. He argued that the Satanic Temple is a cult, not a religion, and that the group’s main goal is to end prayer at pubic meetings.
“This is what that Satanist group wants,” he said. “A moment of silence is basically a banning of prayer.”
DiCiccio appears to be correct, since the Satanic Tempe has stated that its entire reason for fighting for the invocation was to end the practice by demonstrating that it is a flagrant breach of the separation of church and state.
DiCiccio and councilmen Bill Gates, Jim Waring, and Michael Nowakowski voted against the change.
Mayor Greg Stanton and council members Daniel Valenzuela, Kate Gallego, Laura Pastor, and Thelda Williams voted in favor. They said they were worried that taking steps to prevent the Satanist group from giving the invocation would lead to a costly legal battle.
The vote did not sit well with most of the people in the audience. For more than two hours, the council heard testimony from citizens who said they wanted prayer continued at the meetings.
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“I want Christians to pray. I want those who believe in the one true God to pray,” exclaimed Pastor Darlene Vasquez, who became more and more emotional as she spoke. “It breaks my heart to hear what’s going on.”
Though no one from the Satanic Temple spoke at the meeting, a few people voiced support for allowing members of all religions — including the Satanists — to participate in the opening invocation.
“You can’t pick and choose what religions you think are appropriate to come up here and give the invocation at Phoenix City Council meetings,” attorney Brent Kleinman said. “The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that’s unconstitutional.”