PHOENIX (ChurchMilitant.com) - Members of the Phoenix City Council are blocking a satanist group from performing an invocation at a council meeting this month.
Four councilmen are seeking to enact an emergency ruling forbidding representatives from the Satanic Temple of Tucson, Arizona from delivering a prayer at the beginning of the February 17 city council meeting.
Current rules allow any organization to call the city clerk's office and choose a date to act as the prayer leaders for that particular meeting. City Manager Ed Zuercher has stated the proposed changes, set as an agenda item for next Wednesday's meeting, would hand over the selection process to the mayor and the eight council members; they would then select a prayer leader from a rotating schedule.
The new rule, effective within 24 hours as part of an emergency clause, would revoke the invitation of the satanists.
The satanists, who claim that while they are a religion they do not worship the devil, have asserted they will seek legal action if not permitted to pray. "If [the members of the council] want to commit a constitutional violation, we will respond in turn," affirmed Stu De Haan, the leader of the local chapter of the Satanic Temple. "This is clearly discriminatory and targeting one group."
The organization claims it's acting as representatives of "religious liberty and democratic plurality."
But according to councilman Sal DiCiccio, allowing the satanists to deliver the invocation is going to make "a mockery of everything."
"[T]hey want to mock the City of Phoenix, the taxpayers and the people who want to take this stuff seriously," he told a local news station.
Jim Waring, another one of the four councilmen attempting to block the satanists, contends there has been an outpouring of people "trying to get us to get rid of the invocation."
Not everyone within the Phoenix government is for rejecting the Satanic Temple, however, with the city's mayor Greg Stanton throwing his support behind the satanists, noting that the Constitution "demands equal treatment under the law."
"I strongly disagree with this group's message," Stanton said in a statement issued last week. "However, the First Amendment protects free speech. As offensive as that message may be, the Constitution demands equal treatment under the law."
According to Brad Holm, the attorney for the City of Phoenix, the "city cannot dictate religious viewpoints or the content of a prayer," and additionally "government may not exclude a denomination or a religion from praying under these circumstances."
Dianne Post, an attorney and self-proclaimed humanist, asserted that if "you allow God in the building, you have to allow the devil in the building." Post became the first non-religious individual permitted to offer the pre-meeting prayer when she delivered a secular address last month.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 2014 ruled that government bodies that allow prayer before assemblies must "let in everybody." The case has also been used by opponents of public prayer to eliminate the practice in favor of a moment of silence instead.
In December, the Satanic Temple of Detroit organized a ceremony outside the Michigan capitol in Lansing in what is described as the country's "first state-sanctioned satanic ceremony in history."