City Council Cancels Opening Prayers Entirely after Satanists Want to Pray at Meeting

The Phoenix City Council has voted to cancel open prayers entirely before its meetings after a bid from local satanists to lead the prayer caused serious controversy.

The Satanist group was set to deliver the opening prayer at the City Council meeting on February 17.

The decision to cancel the prayers in exchange for a moment of silence was also controversial. "But the decision sparked protests from some residents and city leaders, who said having a moment of silence is akin to banning prayer and gives the Satanists a victory," reports AZ Central.

Outrage over the Satanic prayer was on display at a Wednesday city council meeting where "more than a hundred people filled seats at the council's meeting, many opposing the Satanic invocation. The emotional testimony went on for more than two hours."

The Council had introduced a proposal that would keep the prayer but block the Satanists by having the Mayor and City Council members invite different religious groups to give the opening prayer at the meetings.

City Attorney Brad Holm said that would be a violation of the First Amendment, if applied retroactively. Holm said the city cannot change its invocation practice to specifically block Michelle Shortt, a temple member from Tucson expected to give the prayer.

However, Holm said the city could not allow anyone to give a spoken prayer going forward if it immediately adopts a “moment of silent prayer.” That way the city would not be excluding minority religious groups in order to favor a more widely held viewpoint, he said.

"But mayor and council cannot decide that this woman would not be allowed to offer her spoken prayer," Holm said, noting the Satanists had indicated they would sue. "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." 

Councilman Sal DiCiccio warned that creating a moment of silence gives the Satanists a "big win." He said the Satanic Temple is not a real religion and that the group's ultimate goal has always been to ban prayer entirely. He said the religious community would collect signatures to put the issue on the ballot and overturn the council's decision.

"This is what that Satanist group wants," DiCiccio said. "A moment of silence is basically a banning of prayer. It’s to agree to the Satanic goal to ban prayer."

The Mayor and some city council member supported the change to avoid a costly legal battle with the Satanist group.

"The First Amendment to the Constitution is not ambiguous on this issue," Stanton said. "Discriminating against faiths would violate the oath that all of us on this dais took. I personally take that very, very seriously."