BOCA RATON – A local self-described atheist and a Wisconsin-based watchdog group advocating the complete separation of church and state are challenging invocations at Boca Raton City Council meetings.
In a Sept. 25 letter to Mayor Susan Haynie, the nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation pointed out that last year the U.S. Supreme Court in Town of Greece (N.Y.) v. Galloway upheld prayers at city council meetings on the understanding that the town at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would-be prayer giver.
“Kindly add me to the invocation rotation, where at the very next available opening, I’d like to give a Satanic Invocation before the most august Boca Raton City Commission,” wrote Chaz Stevens, who started a satanist church in Pompano Beach and has been pushing to end prayers before municipal meetings in Palm Beach and Broward counties through his “Satan or Silence” project. ”My invocation will lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the Nation’s heritage. The invocation will be solemn and respectful in tone, and invite lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideas and common ends.”
The Deerfield Beach resident who also writes a blog, My Acts of Sedition, contacted the FFRF to seek its support. He has threatened to sue cities unless he is allowed to lead a prayer to Satan.
Boca Raton City Council members have been mum on the issue; however the assistant city clerk acknowledged his request.
“Please note that there is no invocation rotation for City Council meetings; the meetings do not include an invocation from clergy or the public,” she wrote.
Invocations at the Boca Raton City Council meetings are done by council members.
Roughly half of the municipalities in Palm Beach County begin their meetings with a prayer or invocation. Others either recite the Pledge of Allegiance or provide a moment of silence.
Shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling last May, the FFRF – with more than 23,000 members, including more than 1,100 members and a chapter in Florida – sponsored a contest where people were called on to give atheist invocations at public meetings. A Lantana man responded and in December gave an invocation laced with references to a plethora of gods, including the evil one, at the Lake Worth City Commission meeting. Four commissioners walked out in protest.
Stevens also applied to give an invocation at the Lake Worth City Commission meeting.
In May, the Deerfield Beach City Commission dropped prayer before meetings in favor of a moment of silence after Stevens asked to deliver an invocation. One commissioner threatened to leave if Stevens was permitted to give his invocation.
And in Coral Springs, commissioners voted that effective Oct. 1 it will end its longstanding policy of opening meetings with a prayerful invocation.
He also requested to do a prayer in Delray Beach, which substituted invocations with the Pledge of Allegiance before meetings.
Stevens has his sights set on other local cities’ invocations, including Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach.
The self-described Satan’s favorite minion placed a Festivus Pole made of beer cans at the Florida Capitol rotunda, as well as the City of Delray Beach last Christmas.