Phoenix City Council Decides Silencing Prayers Better Than Satanic Temple Invocation

Phoenix City Attorney Brad Holm felt he had to deliver the hard truth to city council members and the more than 100 people who had jammed into a standing-room-only meeting on Feb. 3.

Holm said the city council could block Michelle Shortt, a member of the Phoenix chapter of the Satanic Temple, from doing the invocation at the council’s meeting Feb. 17. The Satanic Temple was sure to file suit, alleging the city had violated their constitutional rights as spelled out in the First Amendment.

And, Holm said, the city council was sure to lose.

“Mayor and council cannot decide that this woman would not be allowed to offer her spoken prayer," Holm said. "Our view as the city's attorney's office and my view personally as the city attorney is that we would be likely to lose that case."

The Satanic Temple asked to deliver the city council meeting’s invocation in January and was put on the city council’s agenda for Feb. 17. It was a decision that didn’t go public until the last week of January. And when it went public, it went viral. It went ballistic.

Sal DiCiccio, a member of the city council, threw the cat out of the bag on Jan. 28 when he tweeted, “Another dumb idea by the city. Satanists are set to deliver the invocation at the Feb 17th Council meeting.”

The Phoenix New Times reported the Satanic Temple fired right back the next day by tweeting, “This is what Religious Liberty looks like when you open the forum, Councilman. Little Civics Lesson."

Alarm bells sounded at Phoenix City Hall. Attorneys were put on high alert. City council members scrambled to block the Satanic Temple's invocation while keeping prayers a part of their meetings.

The Arizona Republic reported four city council members offered a plan to let the mayor and the council take turns inviting religious groups of their choice to deliver the invocations. Of course, nobody was expected to encourage the Satanists, and no one would.

That proposal was on the agenda for the Feb. 3 city council meeting, an emergency session. And a vote was expected until Holm delivered the hard truth. Nothing would be better, nothing at all.

He advised the council to replace their invocation with a “silent prayer” or a moment of silence. It was very logical. If no one were selected to say a prayer, no one would sue.

Funny enough, that is exactly what Stu de Haan, a Phoenix Satanic Temple member, had suggested the previous week.