Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Blocking Satanist Invocation in Scottsdale (AZ) May 19, 2021

Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Blocking Satanist Invocation in Scottsdale (AZ)

Back in February of 2020, a U.S. District judge ruled against Satanists who wanted to deliver an invocation in front of the Scottsdale, Arizona city council.

Now an appellate court has upheld that decision.

The initial ruling came after the council members spent more than $176,000 to block Satanists from doing what Christians are allowed to do on a regular basis. It’s a battle that’s been going on for several years.

All of this dates back to 2016, when the city council prevented The Satanic Temple from delivering an invocation at one of their meetings. The reason they gave at the time was that the Temple had no presence in the city — the chapter was based in Tucson, not Scottsdale — even though they never asked about that during the application process. So why did that issue come up only after the Satanists had been given a green light to speak?

Seemed like a fair question.

Attorney Stu de Haan and Plaintiff Michelle Shortt

The Satanic Temple, months later, sent a letter to the council warning them against further discrimination. This time, they had some proof that the council members were actively trying to silence them and that the whole “where are you based?” question was nothing more than a distraction.

Mayor [Jim] Lane and Councilwoman [Suzanne] Klapp made various anti-Satanic comments to the media that indicate that they wish to use the county’s invocation practice exactly for such “impermissible government purpose[s]”… For example, Mayor Lane stated: “In Scottsdale, we’ve decided to keep our traditional invocations and we’ve decided to send this Satanist sideshow elsewhere.” [link]

He went on to say, “not on my watch. Not in the best city in America. We’re telling the Satanists, hell no.”

It didn’t stop there. Mayor Jim Lane was up for re-election, and one of his campaign flyers included a line about how he was proudly discriminating against Satanists.

That circled bit said Lane “Stopped so called ‘Satanists’ from mocking City Hall traditions with a ‘prayer.’”

At that point, the city council had two choices: Take back their words and allow the Satanists to speak… or get hit with a discrimination lawsuit.

The city never took that threat seriously, but the Satanists did, and in February of 2018, they sued the city over what they claimed was a violation of the Establishment Clause.

The Satanists (including member Michelle Shortt) alleged that in the eight years prior to their invocation request, “every invocation given was of the Judeo-Christian faith.” After the Satanists’ request was made, one council member, Kathy Littlefield, told her constituents that she did “NOT want the Satanists” speaking and considered their invitation “taking equality too far.”

The lawsuit also pointed out that Lane told his constituents that the invocations were diverse as is, and to prove it, he referred to the “respectful and thoughtful messages from Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and countless other faiths.” That was quite a statement considering that, according to the complaint, “At no time have members of the Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindus faith given an invocation before the Scottsdale City Council.”

The implication was clear: No matter what these people said, they only wanted Christian speakers. Satanists weren’t allowed. It was clear-cut discrimination against a belief system that the council members didn’t like. That’s why The Satanic Temple called it a violation of the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause as well as a violation of the “Toleration of Religious Sentiment” clause of the Arizona Constitution.

Both sides went to court in July of 2019. Attorney Stu de Haan explained that the city filed two motions to dismiss the case entirely, but both were denied. The case eventually went to trial.

It’s absurd when you think about it: All this controversy over nothing more than a “90-second invocation.”

But the city council finally got what they wanted in February of 20202. Judge David G. Campbell ruled in their favor.

In essence, Campbell said the city administrator rejected the Satanists because they “lacked any substantial connection to the City.” Whether or not that was a city policy didn’t matter, Campbell said, because it wasn’t religious discrimination. The only question he had to answer was the discrimination one.

That also meant the council members’ personal bigotry was irrelevant because the judge didn’t have evidence showing that their comments were the reason the Satanists were rejected. He added that the city administrators who said no to the Satanists neither “saw [nor] knew about the emails” regarding the council members’ anti-Satanist rhetoric.

(Jack Matirko, writing at The Satanic Temple’s blog on Patheos, said at the time there was one positive to come from this decision: The judge acknowledged that Satanism is a religion… which was no small thing.)

For anyone curious, the city did, eventually, relent a bit. In early 2020, they allowed a local atheist to give an invocation and he cited Lucifer… which should count for something.

Still, the Satanists appealed the ruling. And today, that decision finally came down… and it was more bad news. The judges said “The district court did not err in entering judgment in favor of the City.”

Lucien Greaves, spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, told me this just means they’re back at square one: “We’ll reach out to the city to find out how we can give an Invocation properly, without all of these unfortunate misunderstandings.”

If they can find a Satanist within city limits, then we’ll finally see how the city council responds when they can’t use the excuse that someone’s not a member of their community. Again, this is a long drawn out battle all because the city council refused to let Satanists speak, whatever the reason. They could’ve found a way to make it work. Instead, we ended up with a multi-year legal battle.

But if religious discrimination isn’t the issue, this should be a done deal, right?

(Top screenshot via Fox 10. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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