Members of the Satanic Temple in Phoenix are scheduled to deliver the invocation at the Feb. 17, 2016 Phoenix City Council meeting. It’s probably just intended to stir up a lawsuit, as a sort of “poison pill,” having the intended ultimate impact of banning all prayer/invocations at the outset of future council proceedings. Councilpersons will be at loggerheads over this item.
It’s both a puzzling and a comedic moment. It’s puzzling because a city can, though it should not and will not (except in Colorado City), establish a religion. The U.S. Constitution’s first amendment (Establishment Clause) doesn’t permit Congress to pass any law establishing religion. While Satanists can exercise their right of free speech, for instance during the “call to the public” portion of the council meetings, they have little basis to claim that Satanism is a religion. The Church of Satan itself, however, says worshiping Satan isn’t what they’re doing; it’s mission statement stresses that they don’t believe in a literal Satan. Instead, Satan is used as a metaphor to represent their belief in the power of fantasy. I enjoy the occasional fantasy, but I don’t understand how that elevates Satanism to religion, unless secular humanism or “the Dark Side” are religions, also. If the latter is, we should hear from Darth Vader/Maul at the public podium in the Council chambers before long.
If Satanists are not worshipping anything except fantasy, theirs would not seem to qualify as a religion in any faith-related sense. Still, in American Humanist Association v. United States, a federal district court in Oregon in 2014 ruled: “The court finds that Secular Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes.” But, this is not a first amendment rights or religion blog, so there’s little point in debating that conclusion here.
I wonder if the City Manager’s Office vetted (not censored, but previewed) what the Satanic Temple’s underpinnings of its invocation will be? Since Lucifer in the Bible despises God’s love for humankind, it seems Satan doesn’t wish us well. Will the Templars spokesperson’s invocation curse the Council Members? More than likely, the Templars’ invocation will be political in tone. According to the group’s website, its mission “is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.” Perhaps the invocation will invite the Council to stop suppressing individual rights through its actions. What is likely is that this moment will turn into a circus. The opposite of one moment of reflection.