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City Council To Discuss Invocation Policy

Lindsay Myers

The Pensacola City Council meets in special session this week, on possible changes to its process of scheduling those wishing to provide an invocation.

At issue is a request, granted earlier this year, for local activist David Suhor to deliver the invocation before the Council’s July 14th meeting, on behalf of the Satanic Temple of West Florida.

Suhor, who calls himself a secular humanist, has given invocations before the Escambia County Commission, though not for Satanists. He declined to be interviewed for this story, referring our emailed questions to the Temple, where a representative emailed the following points, among others:
They are atheistic, using a “mythical Satan” to encourage free will;
They would prefer no religious rituals at secular meetings,
They declined to give a preview of the invocation, but said it will be fitting to the occasion and they hope will “uplift the Council.”   

The Temple is also undecided whether they will attend the special meeting, or send a representative.
Suhor also wants all elected bodies to stop beginning meetings with prayers. His behavior during a Christian prayer before the Escambia County School Board last year drew fire from board member Gerald Boone.
“He’s disruptive, while the person who has been invited to give the invocation is doing so,” aid Boone. “Last month in particular, I could hear two people talking – one of them was a chant, and one was giving the invocation. To me, that’s not called for, and that he is out of order.”

City Council President Charles Bare says Suhor gave invocations before them in 2012 and 2014.
“This time he’s coming in representing the Satanic Temple,” said Bare. “Although he is not ordained by the Satanic Temple, he does apparently lead the local group. It’s the first time, as far as we know, that he’s represented the Satanic Temple to come in.”
The city clerk’s office handles booking and setting up invocations for Council meetings. Suhor was originally scheduled to appear in December, but after his email protests the decision was made to schedule him on July 14 – the next available date.
Bare has called a special meeting of the City Council for next Thursday to discuss the issue, including the possibility of changing the verbal prayer to a moment of silence.
“I think what would have happened if I had said no to Mr. Suhor, that we would have been involved in litigation, he probably would have sued the city,” Bare said.  
And while the Council is predominantly Christian, Bare says past invocations have been delivered at times by non-Christian clergy.
“We’ve had a Humanist, we’ve had rabbis, and we may have had a Muslim prayer at some point,” Bare said. “But I think the real issue is Council has had not say in it. Clearly we need to have some type of discussion.”
The special meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. next Thursday, July 7, at City Hall.