FFRF condemns changes to Phoenix prayer policy

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has deemed unconstitutional the Phoenix City Council’s proposed changes to its invocation policy to bar a Satanic prayer.

The City Council proposed amendments that would ban the Satanic group. The amendments, in response to a request from the Satanic Temple to give a prayer at a city council meeting, would include a requirement that individual council members or the mayor invite someone to deliver prayer before a meeting. A councilman acknowledged that this would favor “Judeo-Christian groups.” The councilman, Sal DiCicco, has called The Satanic Temple’s prayers “dumb” and “stupid.”

Prayer-givers would also have to be Phoenix residents, in a measure aimed at the Tucson-based Satanic Temple.

In a letter emailed to the mayor and all council members this morning, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel from the national state/church watchdog group condemns the council’s proposal as “discriminatory in both intent and effect.” Seidel cites the Supreme Court’s 2014 government prayer case, which he says holds “a local government must open its prayers to all comers, including atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, and Satanists.”

“Once it invites prayer into the public sphere, government must permit a prayer-giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates,” writes Seidel, quoting the case, Greece v. Galloway. Seidel also points to cases holding that residency requirements are invalid under the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

“That you do not wish to hear a prayer ending with the phrase ‘Hail Satan,’ is understandable,” Seidel says. “Many Americans don’t want to hear prayers that end ‘in Jesus’ name’ from their government.”

The best policy, the most inclusive policy, is to stop prayers altogether and concentrate on governance, adds Seidel.

The letter concludes with a bible quote, Matthew 6:5-6, in which Jesus condemns public prayer as hypocrisy.

“Jesus’ point is simple: People who want to be seen praying are hypocrites,” says Seidel. “Any council member is free to pray at any time, before, during, or after the meetings. But as this proposal shows, that is not enough. Apparently, you need to be seen praying.”

FFRF asks the council to confirm either that it is ending prayers altogether or allowing The Satanic Temple to give a satanic prayer.

The ordinance amendment will come up for a vote as early as this week.

FFRF has a national membership of 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 500 in Arizona.

Correction: an earlier version of this press release stated that the council proposed these changes in an emergency session, which is not true.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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