PHOENIX, Ariz. — Four city council members in Arizona are seeking to stop a Satanist organization from delivering the invocation at an upcoming meeting after the city announced that it would allow the presentation.
The Satanic Temple had submitted a request to deliver the invocation at a Phoenix City Council meeting to ensure that “minority” voices are included in the mix. The group says that it does not really believe in Satan, but sees the figure as a metaphor for rebellion.
The city agreed that the group should be allowed to participate, and scheduled its inclusion on Feb. 17 as per the Satanic Temple’s request.
“Consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s direction, the city cannot dictate religious viewpoints or the content of a prayer,” City Attorney Brad Holm wrote in a statement on Thursday. “In addition, government may not exclude a denomination or a religion from praying under these circumstances.”
However, Councilmen Sal DiCiccio, Bill Gates, Jim Waring and Michael Nowakowski are now seeking to change city policy so that the invocation won’t be turned into a “circus” by atheist or Satanist groups.
“Insanity is going on; that’s really what has been occurring,” DiCiccio told local television station KSAZ. “It’s definitely going to be making a mockery of everything. They want to mock the City of Phoenix, the taxpayers and the people who want to take this stuff seriously.”
“This is what religious liberty looks like when you open the forum, councilman,” the Satanic Temple responded on Twitter.
However, questions have also been raised as to why members Michelle Shortt and Stu De Haan, who live in Tuscon, need to travel to Phoenix to participate.
“We don’t have a place to do that here, and we would like to be represented in our state’s capital,” Shortt said.
De Haan, an attorney who leads the Tuscon Satanic Temple, has threatened legal action if the city blocks him and Shortt from delivering the invocation.
“If they want to commit a constitutional violation, we will respond in turn,” he told reporters. “We have people everywhere (in each council district), and we’ll adjust.”
DiCiccio and others moved on Friday to change the way that invocations are scheduled, so that city council members would be able to select speakers instead of permitting groups to call and select a date.
The issue is expected to be discussed further on Wednesday. Mayor Greg Stanton says that while he opposes the Satanic Temple, he believes that the city must allow the group its time.
“I strongly disagree with this group’s message. However, the First Amendment protects free speech,” he said in a statement. “As offensive as that message may be, the Constitution demands equal treatment under the law.”