The Satanic Temple and the head of its Arizona chapter have sued the city of Scottsdale for religious discrimination after being denied the opportunity to deliver an invocation during a 2016 city council meeting.
Attorneys for the non-theistic religious group and member Michelle Shortt filed the suit in Arizona federal court Tuesday, alleging constitutional violations stemming from Scottsdale’s decision to reject their request to give the meeting’s opening prayer.
Scottsdale’s “established practice of permitting regular official sectarian invocations to open City Council meetings while denying The Satanic Temple the same right is in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” attorney Stuart DeHaan wrote on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Founded in 2012, the Satanic Temple bills itself as an international organization with more than 50,000 members dedicated to encouraging “benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.”
The group asked and received permission in Feb. 2016 to open an upcoming Scottsdale City Council meeting, but its members walked back that decision that May, spurring this week’s lawsuit.
The group was denied “not because of any particular religious affiliation, but because they did not have any substantial connection to the Scottsdale community,” the city said in a statement Tuesday.
“The city has not been served with the complaint, so we are not in a position to offer specific comments in response. We believe the city’s practice meets all constitutional requirements,” Scottsdale said.
The Scottsdale City Councils meets an average of more than once a month, and a review of the invocations delivered between 2008 through 2016 reveal that every one of their meetings was opened by a Judeo-Christian prayer, according to the lawsuit.
“The Plaintiffs consider the sectarian invocations divisive and exclusionary, leaving them to conclude they are unwelcome at City Council meetings and political outsiders in their own State,” the Temple’s attorney responded in the 10-page lawsuit.
Indeed, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane — a defendant in the case — boasted on his re-election campaign website of having “stopped so-called ‘Satanists’ from mocking City Hall traditions with a ‘prayer.’”
“[I]n Scottsdale we’ve decided to keep our traditional invocations and we’ve decided to send this Satanist sideshow elsewhere,” Mr. Lane allegedly said, according to the lawsuit.
Ms. Shortt, an Arizona resident who holds an associate’s degree in mortuary science, “objects to the exclusionary sectarian invocation on religious grounds,” her attorney added. “As a practicing Satanist, she believes the sectarian invocations violate her First Amendment rights to religious liberty by advancing particular religions while excluding her own.”
The plaintiffs seek an injunction preventing Scottsdale from “knowingly, intentionally, or negligently denying non-Christian religious groups the opportunity to give opening invocation,” as well as declaratory relief and damages.
“The Satanic Temple’s main goal is to either give the invocation or to have a non discriminatory policy,” Mr. DeHaantold Tucson News Now. “We’re not asking anyone to follow our tenants but that does not mean we don’t have the same constitutional rights as everyone else.”
“[T]his is viewpoint discrimination, it’s not about the viewpoint itself,” he added.
A Facebook page for the Satanic Temple’s Arizona chapter, based in Tucson, has nearly 5,000 members. The group had planned to hold a meetup in Scottsdale last July, according to the Facebook page.
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