The Phoenix City Council’s recent vote to switch from a religious invocation to a moment of silence at the beginning of their meetings is ridiculous. Now this is coming from someone who thinks that religious invocations at the beginning of city council meetings are ridiculous in and of themselves, so hear me out for a second here.
The final vote came out 5 to 4 in favor of switching to a moment of silence, therefore effectively and legally banning The Satanic Temple from giving their invocation on February 17. A large part of me, when hearing this news, thought, “Great! They shouldn’t be worrying about sectarian prayers anyway. They’re a government agency.” But even the right decision made for the wrong reason can make it a bad decision. What is this vote but just another example of the powerful majority looking to silence the few, the unpopular, and the weak? It would be unconscionable, not to mention downright inconceivable, for this to happen as a direct result of a Christian wanting to speak some of the words of their faith to a group with an open invitation policy. So how it possibly considered ethical for a governing body to openly black ball this group of people from making their constitutionally vetted invocation before the people of Phoenix?
Part of the reason might be because the majority vote in this instance were actually the people most supportive of The Satanic Temple’s right to speak at their venue. The four who were against switching to moments of silence were attempting to simply deny the Satanists outright while continuing to hold Christian sectarian invocations.
“I want those who believe in the one true God to pray. It breaks my heart to hear what is going on,” said local pastor Darlene Vasquez at the meeting, representing nicely much of the sentiment floating around the room during last Wednesday’s meeting.
“This is what the Satanist group wants,” said Councilman Sal DiCiccio. “A moment of silence is basically a banning of prayer. It’s to agree to the Satanic goal to ban prayer.”
Bold words from the man doing his damnedest to vilify a group of people looking to simply participate in the civic process. After spending about two hours opening mocking and condemning his fellow Arizonians and Americans, I guess it turns out that it’s actually DiCiccio who is the victim here!
National spokesman for The Satanic Temple Lucien Greaves had a strange choice of words for someone who had just won such a stupendous victory: “It was absolutely medieval. The whole thing was terribly depressing. The unending line of Christian representatives was tedious and aggravating. We kept hearing the idea that it was The Satanic Temple trying to muzzle free speech when the truth is that we merely wanted to engage in it.”
Greaves noted that whatever was chosen by the council suited them fine. Being, for all intents and purposes, a secular group, they’re not typically in favor of religious invocations anyway. But if the forum is available, they simply want a space at the table.
When it comes to maintaining the spirit of the law in addition to the letter of it, a situation like this never should have come up. One of the ideas behind having these invocations, outside of any particular sectarian need to appease their god(s), is to attempt to bring to the council proceedings a little bit of humanity, a little bit of the numinous, and a little bit of cultural favor and flavor to what can otherwise be a stuffy meeting. And as far as the Supreme Court is concerned, it was a manner in which the First Amendment could be exercised. So this whole situation just proves why it’s so important to have a law like the First Amendment: at the first sign of even potentially unfavorable speech, they just shut the whole goddamn thing down. It’s cowardly at best, and it’s an expression of just how much of a totalitarian strangle-hold Christianity has on the tone of politics in this country at the worst.
We may never know what The Satanic Temple’s representative was going to say at the Phoenix City Council meeting, but I’m willing to bet that it wouldn’t be anywhere near as hateful as the preachments of condemning homosexuality or to stomp on the place in our culture of minority faiths and viewpoints, all of which you can find from the pulpits of Christian churches and anywhere else (and I stress, literally, ANYWHERE ELSE) they decide to put up camp.