Officials here really don’t want to go to the devil. So they vowed this week to end a longstanding tradition of opening City Commission meetings with an appeal to a higher being.
The shedding of a prayerful invocation before meetings comes in response to political activist Chaz Stevens, who has threatened to sue cities, Coral Springs among them, unless he’s allowed to lead a prayer to Satan.
City officials delayed a response to Stevens’ request for weeks, then announced that as of Oct. 1, there will be no more blessings before meetings.
Mayor Skip Campbell said the city is bound by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that mandates if cities allow prayer, they must allow all prayer.
“I don’t think our citizens would be in favor of Satanic invocations before City Commission meetings,” Campbell said. “The cost of fighting that could be astronomical. I don’t see [how] we as a city should be paying lawyer fees for fights on principle. I can find a lot of better things to do with a couple hundred thousand dollars than to give toa lawyer.”
Coral Springs is not the first city to adjust its prayer policy rather than appease Stevens. Deerfield Beach in May opted to drop its invocation in favor of a moment of silence.
Stevens, a self-described atheist who advocates for the separation of church and state, most recently appealed to Pompano Beach to lead its invocation. Officials there tried to put Satan behind them by saying leaders who offered prayer must belong to a church. So Stevens created “The First Pompano Beach Church of Satan” with its own Yellow Pages listing.
Still, in August, he was outright refused.
“It has been the city’s longstanding adopted practice to offer a brief, solemn and respectful prayer at the opening of the City Commission meetings, prior to engaging in official City business,” the city clerk emailed him in August. “Contrary to the city’s policy, your numerous emails indicate that you have no intention of delivering an invocation based upon your religious beliefs, no matter what they may be, but instead intend to make a mockery of the proceedings, by, as you indicated, ‘twerking’ and/or bringing a mariachi band to perform.”
Stevens has vowed to sue — and plans to target Fort Lauderdale next.
“The really subtle point here is they didn’t want to hear what I had to say: ‘If you’re not Jewish, or you’re not a Christian, go home,’ ” Stevens said. “My project is named Satan or Silence. That sums it up.”
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