This is, well, different. After months of petitioning the Pensacola City Council, David Suhor finally got the opportunity he was waiting for: the chance to begin a council meeting with a non-Christian invocation on behalf of his Satanic Temple.
Suhor, a 48-year-old local jazz musician and the co-founder of the West Florida Chapter of the Satanic Temple, dressed in a black hooded costume like something from Harry Potter and he recited an invocation he learned on YouTube.
Suhor says his goal is to point out the double standard of religion being incorporated in local government proceedings. He’s been doing this for a few years and often gives invocations that borrow from paganism, Satanism, Judaism, Islam and other religions.
Pensacola—which is just minutes from the Alabama border and home to Pensacola Christian College—is very much part of the Bible Belt. Members of the community were prepared for Suhor’s invocation, showing up with holy water, crosses and prayers, but none of those things stopped Suhor in his invocation.
That’s because governments can allow prayers before proceedings, but they can’t control what type of prayers are recited—it’s often easier to prohibit prayer in those cases.
Council President Charles Bare told the Pensacola News Journal that he didn’t deny Suhor’s request because it could’ve led to legal action on the grounds of freedom of religion. “I didn’t feel like I could just deny him myself,” Bare said. “But if the council takes a vote to decide not to have invocations in the future, that would stop him from delivering his message.”
That’s exactly what Suhor wants to see happen. Unlike the name suggests, Satanic Temple members don’t believe in the devil and are non-theists. Their mission describes them as encouraging “benevolence and empathy among all people.”
“The ones who have trouble with this are those that think their way is the only way,” Suhor told The Washington Post. “When one group wants their message to be the only one and they try to enlist the agenda of the government, people get angry. True religious diversity means I don’t have to respect what you believe, but I’ll defend your right to believe it.”
The approach has worked in other states for other like-minded individuals, often with help from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.