The Satanic Temple is suing the city of Boston, Massachusetts for excluding them from offering invocation prayers during city council meetings.
As it stands, the city’s unwritten rules allow council members, on a rotating basis, to select community members to give those opening remarks. But that leads to favoritism, according to the Satanists, and effectively discriminates against people who hold unpopular religious beliefs.
The lawsuit says members of TST’s Boston chapter made two formal requests to offer invocations in 2016 and 2017. They were unable to speak, though, because no council member gave them that opportunity. More recently, they’ve been rejected for the same reason:
TST lacked the political clout to procure a Councilor’s invitation.
No other religious group has requested an opportunity to bless the Council’s meeting, only to be denied. TST is sole group to have ever been excluded.
If the city says only individuals from those council members’ districts are invited to speak, the Satanists say that’s not true. One invocation speaker headed up a church based in another city — but she was invited to speak anyway because the council member who sponsored her had a “personal connection” to her. Ultimately, if you need an “in” with a council member to give an invocation, the Satanists say that puts them at a disadvantage:
It’s also a perfect microcosm of the problem with granting public officials unfettered authority to grant limited governmental benefits: it will inevitably result in a grant of that benefit to someone with a “personal connection” to the official and, necessarily, will deprive someone else of that benefit.
The City uniquely excluded TST based on TST’s religious viewpoint and the second-order effects of avoiding a public outcry for allowing in an “undesirable” religious minority.
The Satanists also say that, between 2011 and 2017, there were 233 invocations. They were disproportionately awarded to Christians, Muslims, and Jews — representing Abrahamic religions. None of those invocations were given by “Wiccans, other Pagans, and Native Americans.”
… the problem with the City’s prayer selection system is that the prayer opportunity isn’t equally shared among those who are interested — as the Constitution requires — instead, the opportunity is reserved for those who have the political clout to procure a Councilor’s patronage.
TST wants into that club, but lacks the influence to buy admission.
Thus, TST needs this Court to enforce the City’s compliance with the Constitution.
As the lawsuit notes, the Supreme Court has ruled invocation prayers are legal but they must be open to people of all faiths or none at all. If Boston makes it all but impossible for Satanists to take part in that tradition, there’s a problem. The Satanists say they want the courts to declare Boston’s “prayer scheme” unconstitutional — and when that happens, they want to “bless the Council’s meeting within two weeks following entry of the order.”
If the facts laid out here are accurate, Boston’s going to have a hard time justifying their pro-religious traditions. They could avoid all of this by either having a system that allows anyone to give the invocation instead of putting unnecessary hurdles in the way — or getting rid of the idiotic practice altogether because it doesn’t benefit the city. I can’t imagine they’ll do the wise thing and just get to work, but I’m surprised they still haven’t changed the rules to avoid this entirely predictable outcome.