Phoenix council members vote to replace opening prayers with moment of silence

The Phoenix City Council voted Wednesday to end the longstanding tradition of prayer before meetings and replaced it with a moment of silence, preventing an address by a Satanist group and averting a lawsuit over constitutional rights.

A moment of silence was offered as an alternative to a measure that would have allowed the mayor and councilors to take turns to select who gives the invocation. The latter wouldn’t have blocked The Satanic Temple’s prayer scheduled for Feb. 17, city attorney Brad Holm said.

Testimony from both sides of the motion included residents who invoked scripture, the U.S. Constitution and their own deity as well as warning against the dark forces of evil. More than 50 people spoke to sway the decision.

The decision led to outrage from some people in the room. One pastor began to cry as she tried to push for Christian prayer to be used before council meetings, according to the Arizona Republic.

“I am not for the silent prayer,” said Pastor Darlene Vazquez. “I want those who believe in one true God to pray. It breaks my heart to hear what is going on.”

Stuart de Haan, a Tucson lawyer who belongs to the Satanic Temple, said late Wednesday that the group wanted the same right to pray as dominant religious groups. The Tucson-based group doesn't worship any deities, including Satan, de Haan said, but it is opposed to religious tyranny.

The council's decision ensures everyone is treated fairly, de Haan said. "I encourage any Satanist to go have their moment of silence or anyone else," he said.

No members of the Satanists spoke at the hearing, according to the paper.

Councilwoman Thelda Williams offered the alternate motion that passed, later saying she didn’t think the city should waste money defending a lawsuit it would most certainly lose.

Councilmembers Sal DiCiccio, Michael Nowakowski and Jim Waring questioned whether Holm was giving them sound advice regarding a potential lawsuit over constitutional rights. They said they support opening prayers by people who contribute to the betterment of the city and appeared shocked to learn that the original measure wouldn't have the desired effect in keeping the Satanists from delivering a two-minute prayer.

"What is going to happen is: There's no other compromise," Nowakowski said. "We're ending prayer. To me, that's wrong."

DiCiccio vowed to take the issue to voters.

The city Commission on Human Relations said Monday in a statement that de Haan's group should be allowed to deliver the invocation because the defense of religion requires fair treatment of all.

The commission also urged the council to "reconsider the inclusion of any religious invocation at public meetings."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.