After weeks of wrangling, a representative of the Satanic Temple of Northwest Florida delivered the invocation at the Pensacola City Council meeting Thursday night.
Council President Charles Bare gaveled the meeting into session. But as David Suhor, in a black hooded robe, prepared to give the invocation, members of the gallery began drowning him out with Christian prayers.
Bare eventually stood up and used his gavel in an attempt to quiet the audience, or at least keep their comments at a lower level. When that failed he threatened to clear the room.
“Then I’m going to have to ask you all to leave, so [Suhor] can give his invocation,” said Bare. “I can clear the chambers if I like [but] I don’t want to have to do that.”
Some left the chamber, but many remained and stayed relatively quiet when Suhor began his invocation in the form of a song.
According to an email sent to WUWF from a member of the Satanic Temple, Suhor is not a member of that group, its members are actually atheist, using a mythical Satan to encourage free will; they would prefer no religious rituals at secular meetings.
Many in the audience lined up to address the Council in opposition to Suhor’s presence at the meeting. Among them, Dennis Tackett.
“I did not come to criticize him, or judge him; Christ does not give me the right to do that,” said Tackett. “Instead, as I said to Mr. Suhor, I’ve come tonight to pray for the Council; we’ve come to pray for one another, and most importantly, I came to pray for Mr. Suhor.”
Other speakers during the open forum used Bible chapter and verse to condemn Suhor’s invocation, and then Suhor, minus his hooded robe, returned to address the Council.
“This should be a place where anybody can come and address their government without feeling like a minority [and] being prayed over again and again in a way that’s frankly offensive,” said Suhor.
The city clerk’s office handles booking and setting up invocations for Council meetings, but beyond that there’s no set protocol. Suhor urged the Council to adopt rules consistent with Town of Greece, New York vs. Galloway, the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opens the door for all faiths, or the lack of one, to open government meetings.
“You need to set a time limit, you need random choosing,” Suhor said. “You need to invite anyone. If you cannot do that, then you need to drop this charade altogether.”
A special meeting on invocation policy last week produced no changes. A proposal for a moment of silence before City Council meetings was tossed beforehand by President Charles Bare. In a legal opinion in 2014, then-City Attorney Rusty Wells said the current process meets constitutional requirements of the law.
There’s been no comment from current City Attorney Lysia Bowling.