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Phoenix City Council to consider change in wake of Satanic prayer debate

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PHOENIX — The Phoenix City Council is set to hear a proposal on Wednesday that would change the way it schedules opening prayer at its meetings after a prayer request from a Satanic church was approved.

The Satanic Temple of Tucson submitted its request in December to give the prayer and was on the schedule for a meeting on Feb. 17.

“All we did was ask if we can do one too,” Stu de Haan with the Satanic Temple said. “It was accepted right away. There was no issue.”

Phoenix City Attorney Brad Holm said any religion can call the city clerk’s office and request to give the prayer, which is chosen by a rotating pool of state Senate members.

“We just had a policy if somebody called up and wanted to pray, we said OK,” he said, adding that the city struggles at times to find someone willing to give the invocation.

The new system would allow the mayor and eight councilors to select a prayer leader on a rotating basis.

The city has a long tradition of opening council meetings with an invocation and, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling, that cannot be limited to certain religions or beliefs.

Phoenix’s Commission on Human Relations weighed in on Monday, saying if the city is going to allow for the inclusion of prayers at the start of public meetings, then it has an obligation to recognize all faiths and beliefs.

The commission said it supports the right of the Satanic Temple to deliver their invocation before the Feb. 17 meeting, but it also urged the council to reconsider the inclusion of any religious invocations at public meetings.

“While the Supreme Court has upheld the concept of religious invocations, they are neither required nor recommended,” the commission stated.

City Councilman Jim Waring sent a letter to the City Manager Ed Zuercher on behalf of himself, Councilman Sal DiCiccio and several other council members on Friday to change the way the legislature holds its prayers.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the council and the mayor Monday, saying the proposal would amount to discrimination and the best policy would be to stop opening prayers all together.

“That you do not wish to hear a prayer ending with the phrase `Hail Satan,’ is understandable,” wrote Andrew Seidel, staff attorney for the Wisconsin-based group. “Many Americans don’t want to hear prayers that end `in Jesus’ name’ from their government. It alienates them.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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