City leaders in Phoenix are trying to prevent a Satanic group from Tucson from reading a prayer at a council meeting.
The Satanic Temple was granted a request to read an invocation on February 17th. Under current city rules groups request to read. This week the council will vote on an emergency clause that would require council members or the mayor to invite a group to give an invocation.
Stu de Haan, a defense attorney in Tucson, is a member of the group who initially requested the invocation. He believes his religion is misunderstood. While de Haan doesn't believe in a God, he doesn't worship the Devil. Satan is more of a metaphor of rebellion, he says.
"We don't believe that there's a red guy with horns underground," de Haan said. "That's mythological, that's superstitious. That's exactly what we stray against."
The Satanic Temple is a denomination of Satanism, de Haan says, and is a fairly new religion which began in 2012. There is no official chapter in Arizona, and de Haan says it is a agnostic, atheist type of organization that follows seven tenets.
De Haan doesn't think government officials should be allowed to pick and choose which religions they find acceptable, calling the propsed change from the Phoenix council a violation of the first amendment.
"They are absolutely and blatantly discriminating against us," de Haan said. "And it's unbelievable that they are so obvious about it. They are actually publicly stating we are discriminating against the religious minority. It's unbelievable that they're doing that."
Council member Sal DiCiccio has Tweeted about the issue, saying that allowing the prayer is a "dumb idea" and it wasn't about diversity but stupidity.
"I think it's bad for the city of Phoenix," DiCiccio said. "I think it's a distraction. It makes a mockery of everything. If the mayor and others want them to speak they need to put their name behind it."
Four city council members including DiCiccio are supporting the amendment to city rules. Council member Jim Waring told ABC15 last Friday that he is pushing for the rule change because he does not want his constituency to believe that he supported such a prayer.
Nine On Your Side spoke to Louis Fidel, a Tucson attorney not associated with this case, who says legally things can get tricky when you mix religion and government.
"Once you start letting religion into the government process, such as in invocation at the start of a council meeting, then the first amendment says you have to let everyone in," Fidel said.
Representative Kelly Townsend from Phoenix, says she will be holding a prayer rally at the same time as the Satanic invocation. She says she wants to give Christians an opportunity to pray for the city and the people who live there.
"Words have meaning, and to pray in the name of Satan, regardless if you actually believe in him or not, invokes everything dark, demonic, hurtful, and everything antithetical to the God we serve," said Townsend in a written statement. "This prayer meeting during the Satanic invocation will allow us to pray for life, to pray for protection, and to pray for prosperity for the city of Phoenix."
The city of Tucson also allows religious leaders to participate in invocation. There is a list of ministers and individuals who have expressed an interest, and the city rotates through the list. Someone can be added by contacting the clerk's office. The invocation must be nonsectarian and ecumenical in nature.