Phoenix City Council to replace meeting prayer with moment of silence

Feb 3, 2016, 7:43 PM | Updated: Feb 4, 2016, 9:45 pm
(Facebook/The Satanic Temple)...
(Facebook/The Satanic Temple)
(Facebook/The Satanic Temple)

PHOENIX — After a long-winded debate, the Phoenix City Council has voted to replace its opening prayer at meetings with a moment of silence.

The Satanic Temple of Tucson will not be giving a prayer at the council’s Feb. 17 meeting after a motion to replace the prayer all together was passed 5-4 on Wednesday.

The council held an emergency meeting to vote on amendments that changed the way the council holds its meeting prayers.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said during the meeting that council members cannot “discriminate against one faith.”

Stanton said he supported substituting the meeting prayer with a moment of silence.

Phoenix City Attorney Brad Holm said during the meeting it would be an “unconstitutional suppression of a minority religion’s viewpoint” to approve a motion to a measure that would have allowed the mayor and councilors to take turns in selecting who gives the invocation.

The temple was first granted permission to give the invocation a month ago after the group asked to participate.

“It was accepted right away,” Stu de Haan with the temple said. “There was no issue.”

Michelle Shortt, who would have given the meeting prayer on behalf of the Satanic Temple, told KTAR News all their group wants is the same rights as other religions.

“It kind of exposes a hypocrisy that is within our system, their constitutional ignorance and their self-serving audacity,” she said.

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.

During the meeting, approximately 52 speakers, mostly community members, passionately voiced their opinions on the prayer, many of whom were strongly against the idea.

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.

However, that was later met with consternation from several city council members. 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.

One plan led by DiCiccio would see the city’s police or fire department’s chaplain give the opening prayer at every meeting.

“If you look at the United States Congress, if you look at the state capitol, they all have a chaplain,” he said. “It won’t cost city of Phoenix taxpayers any money, all we need to do is use the firefighter chaplain or the police officer chaplain.”

DiCiccio said he would also support another proposal which would allow each council member to choose a person to give the invocation on a rotating basis.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Councilwoman Thelda Williams introduced an amendment to replace the opening prayer at meetings with a moment of silence, which was met with resistance by citizens.

Prior to the hubbub, Holm said the city had adopted new policies on the prayer since approving the satanists’ request, but it had nothing to do with the group.

Instead, he said the city is using similar to those in Congress that mandate prayers be kept short and are free from any political motivation. Holm said the city had a past problem with groups attempting to give speeches or making an argument during the prayer.

Despite the name, de Haan said the group does not believe in Satan as a deity. Instead, the religion is made up primarily of agnostics or atheists and serves a kind of metaphor for rebelling against tyranny and favors “logic and reason over superstition and the supernatural.”

“We should have our voice and we believe that reason should trump superstition in general,” he said.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization that aims to protect the “constitutional principle of separation of state and church,” worked with the temple to apply to give the prayer.

KTAR’s Cooper Rummell and Corbin Carson contributed to this report.

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Phoenix City Council to replace meeting prayer with moment of silence