Sunday, January 31, 2016

Phoenix council members try to block Satanists


Brahm Resnik, 12 News
1 day ago

Four members of the Phoenix City Council moved late Friday to block a Satanist group from delivering the traditional prayer before a council meeting next month.

PREVIOUS: Satanist group scheduled to pray at Phoenix City Council meeting

Stu De Haan
Stu De Haan, a leader of the Satanic Temple in Tucson

Members of the Satanic Temple of Tucson are scheduled to deliver the invocation Feb. 17. Group leaders say they are a religion but they do not worship the devil.

City Manager Ed Zuercher said in a statement Friday night that, at the council members' request, he would add an agenda item for next Wednesday's meeting that would change the way the city schedules groups that lead the prayer.

The current system allows groups to call the city clerk's office to schedule a date. The new system would mimic what the state legislature does: The mayor and eight council members would select the prayer leader on a rotating basis.

The four council members -- Jim Waring; Sal DiCiccio; Bill Gates; and Michael Nowakowski -- want the new rule adopted with an emergency clause, allowing it to take effect within 24 hours. Waring told 12 News that the Satanists would then be disinvited.

"If they want to commit a constitutional violation, we will respond in turn," said Stu De Haan, a Tucson criminal defense lawyer who is a leader of theSatanic Temple chapter. "We have people everywhere (in each council district), and we'll adjust."

"This is clearly discriminatory and targeting one group," he said.

Mayor Greg Stanton was unavailable for comment. The mayor's spokesman said his office had received 19 emails and 15 phone calls about the Satanist invocation.

Stanton said earlier this week after the Satanist invocation was first reported:

“I strongly disagree with this group’s message. However, the First Amendment protects free speech. As offensive as that message may be, the Constitution demands equal treatment under the law.”

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling two years ago requires government bodies that have prayers before meetings to "let in everybody," said Dianne Post, an attorney and humanist who was the first non-religious speaker at a council meeting, last February.

"If you allow God in the building, you have to allow the devil in the building," she said Friday, before word that the council members would attempt to overhaul the prayer rules. "The First Amendment says you cannot favor one church over another church, or a religion over a non-religion."

Earlier this week, the council convened in closed session to discuss legal options for turning away the Satanists. City Attorney Brad Holm told me Friday that the Supreme Court case tied the city's hands.

"People are trying to get attention with this, they're trying to make splash, they're trying to get us to get rid of the invocation," Waring said earlier Friday. He wanted to take the Satanists to court, even in the face of almost certain defeat.

Opponents of public prayer have used the Supreme Court ruling to pressure government bodies to eliminate prayer before meetings in favor of a moment of silence.

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