- The Washington Times - Friday, July 15, 2016

A city council meeting in Pensacola, Florida, turned chaotic Thursday evening when officials allowed a local religious-freedom activist to start the event with a Satanic prayer.

Hundreds of attendees began protesting and about a third walked out as Satanic Temple of West Florida member David Suhor delivered the invocation inside city hall, a local ABC affiliate reported.

The Pensacola city council traditionally begins its meetings with Christian prayer, but it had agreed to give Mr. Suhor the podium after President Charles Bare determined that refusing his request to make the invocation would lead to possible litigation.

“If you deviate away from what I feel is proper invocation speech, I will have you removed from the chamber,” Mr Bare ordered, the ABC affiliate reported.

Mr. Suhor’s attempts to deliver the invocation in a hooded black robe were repeatedly disrupted by protesters, including some who stood up and tried to drone out his address with the Lord’s Prayer. Others, meanwhile, had to be removed from the building by Pensacola police, according to the station.

Several residents approached the podium after the invocation was delivered and took aim at the city’s decision to give a speaking slot to Mr. Suhor, who is currently involved in legal efforts to have a 25-foot cross removed from Bayview Park in Pensacola

“I did not come to criticize him, or judge him; Christ does not give me the right to do that,” said attendee Dennis Tackett, according to WUWF public radio. “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.”

Mr. Suhor said, however, prayer doesn’t properly belong in politics. He returned to the podium later during Thursday’s meeting, the radio station reported, and condemned the council for giving religion such a prominent role in its proceedings.

“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,” he said.

“Quit pushing Christian privilege as we see with the Bayview cross and so many other issues and go to a moment of silence and let everyone pray or not, according to their own conscience,” Mr. Suhor said. “You need to invite anyone. If you cannot do that, then you need to drop this charade altogether.”

On its Facebook page, the Satanic Temple of West Florida said its members strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason, and stands for free will, personal sovereignty and science. The invocation delivered by Mr. Suhor at Thursday’s meeting speaks of “arcane doctrines borne of fearful minds in darkened times” and concluded with the words “Hail Satan.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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