(RNS) The city council in Pensacola, Fla., will consider ending the traditional practice of inviting local clergy to deliver an opening prayer at meetings in order to thwart an invocation planned for July 14 by a representative of the Satanic Temple West Florida.
City Council President Charles Bare said he will propose that regular meetings begin with a moment of silence instead.
The controversy erupted in recent days when it emerged that David Suhor, a member of the local Satanic Temple and a church-state separationist who has been lobbying to end prayers at public meetings, had been invited to give an invocation at the city council’s meeting.
Suhor, who also goes by the name Davidas, had been asking the council for two years to give the invocation; the council had normally invited someone from a list of local clergy.
Last March, Bare told Suhor that he had been confirmed for the July 14 appearance. The news drew the attention of local media in late June when Suhor announced his appearance and began requesting that the local school board also host him.
Suhor describes the Satanic Temple as “an atheistic group” and said it “invokes the example of the mythical Satan for his encouragement of free will, knowledge and rebellion against dogmatic authoritarianism.”
City officials said they did not want to allow Suhor to appear but said rejecting his request would likely violate the First Amendment and invite a lawsuit.
“I didn’t feel like I could just deny him myself,” Bare told the Pensacola News Journal. “But if the council takes a vote to decide not to have invocations in the future, that would stop him from delivering his message.”
That’s why Bare called for a special council session for July 7 to discuss “changing our invocation to a moment of silence.”
“If they don’t want to, then I don’t see that we have any choice but to let Mr. Suhor speak and that may open the door to others that want to speak, too,” Bare told a local radio program on Thursday (June 30).