The response from the Phoenix City Council to a request from The Satanic Temple to have one of their members give an invocation at the beginning of an upcoming city council meeting is both somewhat expected as well as curious, to say the least. But before we get into any of that, I feel like I may be getting ahead of myself here. Allow me to explain the situation.
Religious invocations have, whether constitutionally vetted or not, been a part of American politics and governance for a long time. But the Supreme Court weighed in on this topic in 2014 with the Greece v. Galloway decision that said that it is within the constitution for city councils to open their meetings with sectarian religious invocations, provided of course that they didn’t show discriminatory favoritism toward any particular religion. Since the court decision was handed down, minority religious groups, including atheist groups or otherwise “religious groups” that exercise the right to not be religious, have come out of the woodwork to participate in this newly vetted tradition. The general idea of many of these people: if Christians, representing the majority, are gonna take up government time, we’re gonna exercise our right as well and refuse the backseat when it comes to government favoritism.
I can’t speak for other minority groups, but I know many atheist organizations were disgruntled by the court’s decision, to put it lightly. The preferred outcome would’ve been to have religious invocations stopped, thereby ensuring that the local governments are staying neutral in terms of religion. But since all religious groups participating was chosen over none participating, the months since the decision have been littered with minor controversies because small-town city councils throughout the country don’t feel comfortable having non-Christian invocations at the start of their meetings, and have made decisions to stop the invocation practice altogether in order to avoid having atheists, pagans, or Muslims stop by to wish them well.
But none of these little controversies have been as widely publicized, to the best of my knowledge, as that of the City of Phoenix granting initial permission to The Satanic Temple to give their version of an invocation at the next city council meeting. First off, this is a major U.S. city we’re talking about, not some minor hamlet in rural Georgia. And second of all… it’s THE SATANIC TEMPLE! (Que spooky noises and thunder claps.) If there’s one thing that the American public distrusts more than atheists, it’s gotta be Satanists.
Though a little bit of reading into what The Satanic Temple is all about will show that there really isn’t that much of a difference between these folks and, say, your average atheist, aside from perhaps a little bit of theatrics. A simple Google search will bring up the “About” page of The Satanic Temple web site, which opens with “The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people. In addition, we embrace practical common sense and justice.” As it turns out, these people don’t even believe in the literal mythical devil, but instead hold the character as one who’s example represents “a metaphor against tyranny.”
So it turns out these people are actually just literary-minded secularists (huh, actually sound like my kind of people).
The response from the people in the greater Phoenix area wasn’t quite as ecumenical though. The city council held a special meeting to discuss this matter which attracted hundreds of people and lasted more than two hours as concerned citizen after concerned citizen approached the podium to voice their disgust at the mere thought of having Satanists say anything prior to the regularly scheduled meeting on February 17. And in the end, when the council voted, they decided 5 to 4 to put an end to invocations and will from now on be starting meetings with a moment of silence.
So what do you think? Was this a fair decision on behalf of the Phoenix City Council? Do Satanists deserve a spot in the public discourse alongside Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc.?
In my next piece, I’ll share my point of view on this matter, as well as go a little deeper into what motivated the council members’ votes (Hint: the members of the minority vote, which was to keep religious invocations, were the people most against the Satanists addressing the next meeting. The plot thickens!).