Phoenix opts for silence over prayers at public meetings

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(RNS) The city of Phoenix has decided to replace prayer at its public meetings with a moment of silence.

The move comes after a representative from the Satanic Temple was approved to say a prayer, or invocation, before a council meeting scheduled for Feb. 17.

The Phoenix City Council held an emergency meeting Wednesday (Feb. 3) to consider the change, and more than 50 residents spoke on the issue, most of them in support of the change, according to KTAR News, a Phoenix-area radio station.

The council has a long-standing tradition of opening its meetings with prayer led by a rotating slate of presenters from different faiths and secular groups. In May 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that such sectarian prayers are constitutional — as long as no preference is shown for one faith over another.

That opened the doors to groups such as the Satanic Temple — an atheist organization and not a devil-worshipping group — to give prayer or invocations along with chaplains, priests, rabbis, imams and others.

“It kind of exposes a hypocrisy that is within our system, their constitutional ignorance and their self-serving audacity,” said Michelle Shortt, a member of the Satanic Temple who was scheduled to give the prayer.

The final vote was 5-4 in favor of the moment of silence, with Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton supporting the change.

The Satanic Temple has faced resistance from local governments when it has sought equal access to public space for its monuments — a statue of a seated horned god flanked by two children.

A 2015 Satanic “black mass” in Cambridge, Mass., was canceled after protests and then moved to a private location.

(Kimberly Winston is a national correspondent for RNS)