If you sat in on any recent meeting of the Pinal County (Arizona) Board of Supervisors, you could easily mistake it for a church service.
Their invocations are almost always Christian and far from generic. In May of 2020, for example, one speaker wished for Jesus’ “blood to cover our country, our county, our state, and also this nation.” This past April, another speaker defended invocations by saying, “Can you imagine, Mr. Chairman, if people in this nation would humble themselves and pray, rather than crashing through store windows and stealing merchandise and rioting when things go wrong in our nation?” As if being Christian prevents crime… an idea that has no basis in reality.
Last week, however, after prodding from the Secular Coalition for Arizona, there was a bit of a change. The board began including a disclaimer on its agenda explaining how invocations didn’t represent the Board and that no one had to participate.
Any invocation that may be offered before the official start of the meeting (i.e. Item 1) that is offered by a Chaplain serving the county or other member of a religious organization with a physical presence in the County, is expressing private thoughts as governed by his or her own conscience, to and for the benefit of the Board. The view or beliefs expressed by the invocation speaker have not been previously reviewed or approved by the Board and do not necessarily represent the religious beliefs or views of the Board in part or as a whole. No member of the community is required to attend or participate in the invocation and such decision will have no impact on their right to participate actively in the business of the Board.
Sounds fine… until you realize they’re still limiting invocations to a “Chaplain… or other member of a religious organization with a physical presence in the County.” In other words, Christians, Christians, and more Christians. That disclaimer could shut out atheists as well as minority religious groups that can’t afford a building for their meetings.
On October 27, the first day that disclaimer appeared on the agenda, a Satanist named Charlie Zoom spoke up during the public comment portion of the meeting to condemn the “Christian-only” invocations:
… My name is Charlie Zoom. I’m a father, a husband, a local service and product provider, and I’m also a Satanist. Hail Satan.
I come before you today regarding the issue of invocations at the start of the board meetings… Did the words “Hail Satan” make anybody here feel uncomfortable? Well, if they did, then you can put yourself into my shoes, and the others, every time we hear a Christian prayer to Jesus in this room. This is how we feel when the board members we elect into this office pray to their chosen deity.
It’s divisive, unfair, unconstitutional, and does nothing to bring this County or its communities together. It just divides us further.
The notice that you posted at the end of today’s agenda is a prime example of exclusivity. Its flaw: It only includes religious organizations, leaving people of no-faith out completely.
It is the duty of this board to provide fair and equal representation for all of its constituents, not just the Christian ones. By holding Christian-specific prayers, without the inclusion of all other religions, and non-religion, I feel this board is in violation of its constitutional duties it swore to uphold. It is your job to follow the Constitution and allow all religions and non-religions to give an invocation before a board meeting, or, the more logical and constitutional decision, nothing at all, as you did this morning.
America is a Constitutional republic. We’re not a theocracy. This room is not a pulpit or a church. This board is not a private business. This space is a public space, paid for and supported by “We the people” of Pinal County, of which I am included. This is not a space for Christian privilege. It is a space for all of us, not just for those that hold your personal religious beliefs.
I care about my community and the people within it, including those of you on this board. And this is why I’m speaking to you today. You all work very hard, long hours, and I understand that, and I thank you for that. So let’s be logical and reasonable. Instead of the possibility of paying for legal counsel, which could cost upwards of $200,000, as the city of Scottsdale had to do, I am requesting this board remove public prayer from its meetings all together, as the city of Phoenix has done. Or… replace the invocation with an inclusive moment of silence, at which time people can choose to say a prayer to themselves if they so choose…
… If this board chooses to keep invocations at its meetings, this is my verbal request to be included as a Satanist and a member of The Satanic Temple…
Well stated and very eloquent. And it angered at least one member of the board, who defended the Christian invocations in the local paper without addressing any of the constitutional concerns.
So on Wednesday this week, Zoom spoke to the board once again to reiterate his concerns:
At one point in that brief speech, he quotes Matthew 6:5-6, the verses that say you shouldn’t pray to be seen by others.
The Board has two choices at this point: They can open up their invocations to non-Christians, or they can get rid of the unnecessary practice. But they can’t keep doing what they’re doing now because they will be sued and they will lose.
Sometimes it takes a Satanist to help Christian zealots in the government realize what they’re doing.