Daily Commercial: Man seeks Satanic invocation

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TAVARES — The email request was the first of its kind in Lake County: asking for permission to give a Satanic invocation before a county commission meeting.

Chaz Stevens, who resides in Jupiter and is editor in chief of My Acts of Sedition (MAOS), an anti-corruption blog, recently made the request.

But Stevens emphasizes he is not a Satanist. He just opposes prayer in government meetings, saying invocations are often not inclusive of all faiths.

“I am bothered by the idea of having prayer,” he said in a telephone interview. “I am less bothered by a non-specific invocation. That invocation has to be allowed for everyone. A Satanist, Tectonic and Muslim need to have the same right en-masse.”

Stevens, an atheist, has asked several local cities to end prayer at public meetings, according to his website.

Governments in Coral Springs, Dania Beach, Deerfield Beach and Delray Beach have stopped conducting the prayer invocation at their meetings since Stevens made his request for a Satanic prayer.

Instead, they now offer a moment of silence at the beginning of their meetings.

“Certainly (Stevens’ request) was one of the factors that came into the thought process when we stopped doing invocations,” said Susan Grant, deputy city manager of the city of Coral Springs. “Multiple cities have moved to a moment of silence or stopped (invocations).”

In his email to the county, Stevens cites a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that determined prayer is allowed at government meetings if it provides “a neutral platform that is inclusive of others, including non-Christians, Wiccans, atheists and even Satanists who wish to participate.”

“When the Supreme Court of the Unites States ruling came out, the religious right thought it was a way for everybody to recognize that America was formed on Christian values,” he said. “The Supreme Court opened the door for everyone else. The door opened up and in walked Satan and I.

“Either you allow me to say what I want to say or you don’t allow anyone,” he continued. “My thought is if you are going to continue with this nonsense, you have to let Satan speak.”

Caroline Mala Corbin, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, said if you have a prayer practice you can’t “intentionally limit it to one religion and you can’t discriminate against unpopular religions.”

“Under our Constitution, the government is not allowed to favor one or some religions over others,” she said.

Lake County Attorney Melanie Marsh said the county does not have a written policy concerning invocations.

“Under the Supreme Court’s ruling, anyone can give an invocation,” she said. “We do require that they be a Lake County resident.”

County records show 16 residents gave the invocation in 2015, with the majority from churches — with the exception of a representative from the Baha’i Group of Lake County and the Central Florida Freethought Community.

Elisha Pappacoda, public information officer for the county, said no Lake resident has been turned away from giving an invocation.

But David Williamson, a non-county resident, had his request denied to speak on behalf of the Central Florida Freethought Community on May 9, 2014, Pappacoda said.

“Because Williamson was not a Lake County resident, Paul Tjadan, a Lake County resident with the Central Florida Freethought Community, was instead scheduled for the Aug. 26, 2014, meeting,” Pappacoda said.

Thomas Poole Jr., senior pastor at Grace AME Church, The Villages, said by no means did he affirm Stevens’ system of belief.

“However, I am compelled on two grounds to respect his belief to whatever God he ascribes to,” he said. “Rather than simply shout out prayer, which is unnecessary antagonistic, you could contract with a chaplain who is trained in the ways of handling multicultural, multi-faith communities.”

Commission Chairman Jimmy Conner said he vehemently opposes a Satanic invocation and is opposed to ending prayer invocations.

“When you want to start coming in and devil worshipping, that to me is way over the top,” he said. “The guy wants to promote Satan. That is what is wrong with America right now. I will tell you, he won’t be giving a devil worshipping prayer as long as I am chairman.”

But Stevens said he will not back down anytime soon.

“Allow me in or I will sue you under Florida Statute 761, which is the Religious Freedom Act,” he said.

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