by Jeremy Morrison
There’s no telling what the invocation at tonight’s Pensacola City Council meeting will be like. At least, David Suhor — the man offering up the invocation on behalf of the West Florida Satanic Temple — isn’t saying anything.
“You’ll really just have to come and see,” Suhor said Wednesday. “We’re not telling people what’s happening, but it’ll be something appropriate for the occasion.”
If it’s anything like last week’s special council meeting during which the subject of how best to handle the upcoming culture-bomb of a satanic prayer in council’s hallowed chambers was debated, one should expect equal parts municipal theatrics and tent revival. But there won’t be any chanting.
“People will be able to understand what I’m saying,” assured Suhor, who last week offered up an impromptu, indiscernible chant.
Suhor is giving tonight’s council invocation after a prolonged discussion last week in which council and the public delved into legal precedence establishing Suhor’s right to offer an invocation, the spiritual dangers of allowing him to do so, and the possibility of switching out the pre-meeting invocation with a moment of silence in an effort to legally bypass the requirement of allowing any group a turn at the lectern. The meeting was a raucous one, featuring Suhor’s chant, signs sporting Bible verses, speaking in tongues, evoking of the founding fathers and Bob Dylan, and plenty of “Amens.”
Council President Charles Bare had offered up the option of going with a moment of silence, which was soundly rejected by both council and the public in attendance. In short, the public consensus seemed to be to stick with an invocation, but block Suhor from delivering it.
“I think it’s really interesting when you start talking about you don’t want a moment of silence, you want to stay with an invocation, but you get to pick who does it, and that’s not what the court has said,” Bare said a couple of days after council’s discussion.
The council president — accused last week by Tamara Fountain, Mayor Ashton Hayward’s former chief operations officer, of moving Sohur up on the calendar and thus ruining any chance council had of figuring out a workaround — said he didn’t see any “legislative way to say no.”
“If I had my preference, it would be when I wasn’t council president, or even on council,” Bare said, explaining that Suhor had requested an earlier date and there was an available opening.
Suhor said he expects that some people may exit council chambers during his invocation.
“From what I’ve read earlier,” he said, “I think there’ll be a walkout.”
This is not the first time Sohur has given invocations for local governing bodies, though it will be the first time he is representing the satanic temple. On previous occasions — in front of both the city council, as well as the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners — he offered an invocation as a pantheist or pagan.
Suhor, who owns a singing telegram company, said that he genuinely believes in the various invocations he gives — “I never do any invocation that I don’t genuinely believe in” — but also does it to make a statement.
“I do it because there’s a pattern of discrimination in small towns like this against religions that are unpopular,” he explained his rationale for approaching governmental boards about offering an invocation.
Suhor said he did not see any conflict in representing the various groups. He also declined to place himself in any one category of religion.
“I choose to explore,” he said. “I eschew any religion that eschews another religion. I don’t want to be associated with any religion that says we are the one and only and every one else is wrong.”
Tonight’s Pensacola City Council meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at Pensacola City Hall.