by Casey Tolan
Atheist blogger Chaz Stevens, 51, has started an unconventional campaign to end the common practice of holding prayers before local government meetings: by threatening to also hold a Satanic incantation.
“If I have to go to the city or county commission to get my roof fixed or something and I have to go through church for a few minutes, I hate it,” Stevens told me. “We pay them to get right to the business at hand—the trash, the police, the fire department—not to pray.”
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that towns could begin legislative sessions with a prayer, as long as officials do not discriminate as to which religions are allowed to present invocations. The prayer must also “lend gravity to the occasion” and be “solemn and respectful in tone,” according to the ruling by Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Stevens has taken that ruling to mean that local governments must allow him to give a satanic ritual if they also allow Christian prayers—as long as the ritual is still solemn and respectful. (He also cites Florida state law on religious nondiscrimination.) He said he’s sent letters to more than two dozen municipalities asking them to allow him to hold a prayer or end prayer altogether.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, none have invited him to hold his rites. But in recent months, at least four towns that Stevens contacted ended the practice of holding prayers before meetings to avoid the possibility of having to also allow Stevens’ rituals. City officials from Deerfield Beach, Dania Beach, Coral Springs, and Delray Beach confirmed that they now hold moments of silence. Another city, Lake Worth, has agreed to make the change by next year.
Not everyone is happy about the change. “I’m not even going to start my comments on him, I’m going to keep them to myself,” Marco Salvino, the mayor of Dania Beach, said of Stevens. “It’s blown out of proportion.”
Stevens’ latest target is Lake County. He made headlines today by threatening to sue the county over its practice of holding prayers before commission meetings.
“There won’t be any satanic prayers while I’m chairman,” Lake County Commission Chairman Jimmy Conner told the Orlando Sentinel. “The man isn’t going to bully me. If he hates God, he can do that. But we’re not going to spread devil worshipping in our chamber.”
Stevens said he’s retained two lawyers, and he’s serious about going to court. “We’re in the process of filing lawsuits,” he said. “They’re going to ignore me and they think I’m going to go away. I’m not.”
Since he’s begun sending his letters, Stevens said he’s received three death threats so far, all “nasty anonymous emails.”
This isn’t the first time he’s made news by mocking the porous wall between church and state. In 2013, Stevens installed a pole covered in beer cans at the Florida state rotunda to protest the inclusion of a nativity manger in the capital building.
So what would a Satanic prayer actually look like? Stevens laughed when I asked him. “I literally don’t know,” he said. “There’s not manual for this—you don’t go to Borders and get the book of Satanic prayers.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever get to that point,” he added. “Sometimes, politics is all about the performance.”