SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Satanic Temple of Arizona has filed a lawsuit against the City of Scottsdale for ultimately turning down its request to present an invocation at a city council meeting in 2016.
The group, which is non-theistic and doesn’t actually believe in a literal Satan, but only views the fallen angel as a metaphor for rebellion, is claiming that it is the subject of religious discrimination.
“Various faith groups from the state of Arizona can do an opening prayer or invocation before they get started with city council meetings. We requested to do that, we were given a slot, and then afterwards we were told that we weren’t allowed to speak. So this is clearly religious discrimination, and for that reason we’re going to sue them,” attorney and co-founder Stu De Haan told Fox10 Phoenix.
The group said that co-founder and leader Michelle Short was scheduled to present the invocation on July 6, 2016, but two months prior, the City sent Short an email advising that there had been a change, and that the pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Scottsdale would deliver the prayer instead.
City officials state that Short’s placement on the schedule was nixed because The Satanic Temple doesn’t have substantial ties to the City of Scottsdale. It said in a statement this week that the invocation was not cancelled because of the group’s “religion.”
“The temple was turned away in 2016, not because of any particular religious affiliation, but because they did not have any substantial connection to the Scottsdale community,” it outlined.
De Haan disagrees, stating that The Satanic Temple of Arizona has members in the city. He did not outline how many. The organization formed in 2016 after likewise being turned down by the City of Phoenix.
The Satanic Temple also contends that it obtained email between council members pursuant a public records request and believes that the content proved that the group was unwanted. One council woman reportedly remarked that allowing the organization to present the invocation would be “taking equality too far.”
“By the city council’s own statements, it’s clear that their refusal to allow The Satanic Temple to speak was motivated by their intent to discriminate against a minority religion,” De Haan told the Phoenix Business Journal.
The lawsuit states that only Christians have been approved to deliver the prayer, but spokesman Mike Phillips told AZCentral that the characterization is inaccurate, noting that the Islamic Center of the North East Valley presented an invocation last year.
As previously reported, The Satanic Temple had initially been allowed to present an invocation in Phoenix in 2016, but four city council members, Sal DiCiccio, Bill Gates, Jim Waring and Michael Nowakowski, soon sought to change city policy so that the invocation won’t be turned into what they called a “circus” by atheist/Satanist groups.
The time of prayer was changed to a moment of silence for a season, but weeks later, City Council voted 7-2 to approve a new proposal to bring back the prayers under the stipulation that invocations only be presented by police and fire chaplains.
The Satanic Temple does not meet in an actual temple at all, and its national headquarters are located in the Salem Art Gallery in Massachusetts.
“[W]e do not promote a belief in a personal Satan,” the FAQ section of the group’s main website explains. “To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions.”