PENSACOLA, Fla. — A Florida member of The Satanic Temple who is known for his objections to the promotion of Christianity by the government has been convicted of trespassing after disrupting a government meeting by standing in front of the dais and reciting the Lord’s Prayer, refusing to sit down or stop talking until the meeting was called to order.
David Suhor, a member of the West Florida Chapter of The Satanic Temple, was sentenced on Monday to three months probation, 25 hours of community service, and a fine after being found guilty of trespassing and resisting arrest. He was was arrested in February during the incident at an Emerald Coast Utilities Authority meeting in Pensacola.
According to video footage recorded by Suhor and others, Suhor stood at the dais and repeated the Lord’s Prayer aloud, which disturbed Chairwoman Lois Benson, who was attempting to “gather the people.” She warned Suhor that he was interrupting the meeting, along with other members of the board.
“The chairwoman is trying to conduct business, sir,” attorney Bradley Odom called out.
Suhor, who noted that the meeting had not yet been called to order, then said that he would pray silently.
“You may pray silently. Thank you,” Benson said.
However, Suhor continued to recite the Lord’s Prayer out loud, and Benson called for him to be removed.
“You’re creating a disturbance in a public space,” she said.
“If she’s called the meeting to order, I’ll be happy to sit down,” Suhor told the security guard and police officer who approached him.
Authorities asked Suhor to leave the building, but said that he was engaging in “passive resistance” as he had dropped to the floor, repeatedly inquiring if the meeting had been called to order. Suhor was arrested moments later and dragged out of the building, as he stated that he wanted to “make clear” that he was being “dragged out of the meeting for praying before it’s called to order.”
“If you’re not silent during our prayer before the meeting is called to order, before any of it’s official or recorded or anything, we can have you arrested,” Suhor told the Pensacola News Journal. “To me, that’s a blatant violation of my free speech.”
Benson says that the Authority had changed its prayer practice to present the invocation before the meeting is called to order specifically because Suhor had expressed objection.
“That way anyone who does not want to hear a Christian prayer or any other prayer offered by the board does not miss any of our meeting,” Benson outlined. “I started that simply out of sensitivity to him.”
However, the adjustment was not sufficient for Suhor.
As previously reported, Suhor had delivered an invocation before the Pensacola City Council in 2016, wearing a black hooded robe and belting out a song that ended with “Hail Satan.” A number of those in objection to his presentation began reciting the Lord’s Prayer to drown him out.
Suhor acknowledged that he had a reason for the spectacle: his objection to what he called “Christian privilege” in the government.
“Adopt some [expletive] rules. Stop pandering for votes. Quit pushing Christian privilege as we’ve seen with the Bayview cross and so many other issues and instead go to a moment of silence, that lets everybody pray or not according to their own conscience,” he said, angrily smacking his notebook on the podium.
Suhor was also a plaintiff in the legal challenge against the aforementioned 25-foot cross erected in Bayview Park, which was ordered in June 2017 by a Reagan-appointed judge to be removed—albeit with reluctance.
“Mr. Suhor objects to the government’s display of the Christian cross because he believes it is an endorsement of Christianity, placed primarily for religious purposes, including aggrandizing Easter Sunday services,” the filing read. “As a non-Christian, Mr. Suhor is personally offended and feels excluded by this governmental message. He opposes this appearance of governmental favoritism for religion and for a particular religion, Christianity.”
U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson outlined in his ruling that he believes there is a difference between the original intent of the Founding Fathers regarding the Establishment Clause and the various case law that he felt bound to follow. He said that the cross would be deemed legal if viewed through the lens of what the nation’s founders intended.