Court hears arguments for Satanic Temple to give invocation at Boston City Council meetings

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“Suppose this was 1920s Boston and Jewish temples weren’t invited to speak,” a judge said this week. “Isn’t this the exact same thing except we’re substituting Jews for Satanists?”

Lucien Greaves, a co-founder and spokesman for The Satanic Temple. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The Satanic Temple, based in Salem, is continuing their fight to give an invocation to start Boston City Council meetings — a right they said has been denied by sitting councilors at least three times.

The Satanic Temple, based in Salem, is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as an atheistic religious corporation, the complaint said, with more than 270,000 members and around 2,500 in the Greater Boston area.

Each Wednesday, Boston City Council meetings begin with a legislative prayer, which is given by a clergy member selected by members of the council on a rotating basis.

According to the complaint initially filed in 2021, the Satanists said they requested to give the invocation in 2016, 2017, and 2018. In 2018, the leaders of the temple were told they were unable to give an invocation without a councilor’s sponsorship.

“We take no issue with the fact that the City permits many congregations to invoke Jesus before Council meetings,” the complaint said. “We just want an equal opportunity – one guaranteed by the Constitution – to invoke Satan.”

Appeals judge hears case this week

The case was argued in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit earlier this week, where the city’s lawyer Edward Whitesell said that leaving out some religions would be “a problem,” according to the Courthouse News Service. The News Service shared an opening exchange between the judge and Whitesell.

“Suppose this was 1920s Boston and Jewish temples weren’t invited to speak,” U.S. Circuit Judge William Kayatta said. “So why not here?”

“Because the record shows that a lot of other religions were invited” to give invocations, Whitesell answered.

“But there might have been a lot of other religions back then,” he said. “Methodists. Lutherans. Isn’t this the exact same thing except we’re substituting Jews for Satanists?”

Case dismissed in 2023 when judge had other problems

A U.S. District Court judge ruled against the Satanic Temple last fall, which the temple promptly appealed. In that decision, Judge Angel Kelley said that the City Council’s prayer practice didn’t violate anyone’s rights or the temple’s ability to maintain their religion.

However, their rotating selection of prayer leaders “leaves ample room for abuse.”

“The City Council’s process—or lack thereof—for selecting invocation speakers is the most troublesome to the Court of all factors to consider regarding legislative prayer practices,” Kelley wrote at the time. “There is no dispute that the selection of the invocation speaker is left to each individual City Councilor’s discretion, and there are no formal written policies governing this procedure.”

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