Move over Baptists, Mormons and Catholics. A new group will give the invocation at the beginning of a Sahuarita Town Council meeting in 2019 — The Satanic Temple of Arizona.
In early 2016, members of the temple's newly formed Tucson chapter asked Sahuarita officials to put them on the list to give the invocation, a task rotated among local faith groups. At the time, the list was full. But the group’s date is now set, taking place more than three years after the initial request.
“We’re very pleased that Sahuarita honored our request,” said Stu de Haan, lawyer and media liaison for TST-Arizona. “We’re pretty excited about it.”
Although the invocations must be nonsecular, most are read as prayers and invoke Jesus or a Christian God.
The invocation set for Sept. 9 will be the first in Arizona for the Satanic Temple, but not for lack of trying.
De Haan launched the invocation campaign before it became a local chapter of the national group in February 2016.
“It started in Phoenix, then we found out that almost every municipality in the state has these invocations, so we started applying to participate,” de Haan said. “We just want the opportunity to express ourselves and participate in a public forum like everyone else.”
The decision to apply to give the invocation in Phoenix caused “a complete meltdown,” de Haan said, with the City Council ultimately eliminating its invocation in February 2016, and blaming the Satanists.
“Of course, we didn’t want them to shut it down, we just wanted to participate,” he said. Phoenix now has city police and fire chaplains deliver the invocation, eliminating the public.
When the temple attempted to sign up to give an invocation in Scottsdale, “we were basically told to go away,” de Haan said.
Scottsdale officials originally invited the group to a May 2017 meeting, then disinvited them, resulting in a lawsuit in February 2018 from the temple. De Haan said the lawsuit is being argued on the Equal Protection and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment.
Instead of fighting or opposing the group, Sahuarita officials honored their word and contacted the temple to let them know there was availability and if they were still interested in delivering an invocation, de Haan said.
Town Clerk Lisa Cole said the temple responded to a recent email blast from the town to all potential groups on the wait list indicating there was availability. Michelle Shortt, head of The Satanic Temple of Arizona, responded.
Bruce Van Sickle, associate pastor at Evangelical Free Church of Green Valley, who had coordinated the list of churches giving invocations, stepped away from the job because of the temple's request in 2016. The list is now maintained by Cole.
When Shortt gives her invocation — they don't call it a prayer because they invoke no higher power, de Haan said — she will have three minutes and must be non-secular and ecumenical in nature, not promoting any political platform, avoiding reference to any particular religious holiday, significant date, holy day or religious event, and observing respect for others.
The national Satanic Temple, with which the Arizona chapter is affiliated, has used its position as a religion to challenge the implementation of religious rights and freedoms across the country. It formed in 2012 and is not affiliated with the Church of Satan. De Haan says they are not devil worshipers.
“We’re very happy that Sahuarita is honoring pluralism,” de Haan said. “We’re not doing anything nefarious, we’re just wanting to exercise our rights as a religious organization. We just want to be heard.”
Andrew Paxton | 520-547-9747