Satanic Temple Gets Opening Prayers Banned From Phoenix City Council Meetings
Members of the Satanic Temple of Tucson have forced the Phoenix City Council to ban its customary opening invocation before meetings. The organization had applied for and was approved to deliver the prayer at the February 17 council meeting. Councilman Sal DiCiccio decided to put a stop to it. Along with two other members of the council, he requested an “emergency clause” in order to request immediate changes to the council’s invocation policy.
A meeting was then held late this week where DiCiccio proposed limiting the invocation to Phoenix residents and choosing a rotating council member to pick which clergy member would deliver it. Currently, a rotating group of clergy delivers the invocation. The motions did not pass, and instead the mayor and the council in a 5–4 split voted to replace the regular invocation with a one minute moment of silence.
Members of the public were allowed to speak for three minutes each. The room reportedly was packed, with people unable to get in. Representatives from the Secular Coalition for Arizona and the Freedom From Religion Foundation spoke in favor of the Satanic invocation. Several ministers spoke against it, as did a state legislator, who brought along a letter signed by 20 legislators. Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves, blogging at The Friendly Atheist, complained, “The unending line of Christian representatives was tedious and aggravating.”
Democratic Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and the City Attorney did not try to stop the prayer, saying to do so would lead to a costly lawsuit against the city. Greaves had said in a written statement that the organization intended to sue if they were blocked from giving the invocation. Greaves observed that Mayor Stanton seemed to lose his cool toward Councilman DiCiccio. “He openly and amazingly berated an unnamed ‘member of Council’ who engaged in crass political attacks against other members of the Council regarding this issue,” Greaves said. “Referring to the behavior as ‘despicable’ he couldn’t contain his open disgust.”
Councilman DiCiccio has actively spoken out against the Satanic invocation. He said in an interview with Fox 10, “Insanity is going on at the City Council and at the City of Phoenix,” and noted that Phoenix would be the only city in the country to have a Satanist invocation. He also took to Twitter to denounce the effort.
Satanists and atheists tweeted back in what quickly developed into a Twitter war.
DiCiccio said he did not believe that the Satanic Temple really wanted to give the invocation, but had an ulterior motive of banning prayer. “The goal of the Satanic group has always been to ban all prayer,” he said. “If the Mayor and Council were to give into the Satanists, then they would be granting them their wish.” The local left-leaning alternative newspaper, Phoenix New Times, agreed with DiCiccio that it was a ruse. DiCiccio also accused Stanton and the City Attorney of staging things to result in the elimination of all prayer.
Greaves admitted this was the goal of some:
Church-State separation advocates, Andrew Seidel and Dianne Post, from the Freedom From Religion Foundation [FFRF] have been urging Phoenix, for a number of years now, to discontinue their policy of allowing their City Council meetings to be opened with a public prayer.
They now have their wish. The council meeting on February 17 will begin only with a moment of silence. One of the TST members who had been approved to give the invocation, adult model Michelle Shortt, said she still intends to show up.
Councilman DiCiccio said he intends to resolve the issue once and for all by sending it to the ballot for voters to decide. “Should a prayer ban be successful in Phoenix you will see a ripple effect extending to other cities in the state,” he warned. Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham went a step further and said he’s collecting information on how to recall Phoenix public officials.