Satanic invocation could be coming to Lake Worth commission meeting


“Satan conquers! Satan reigns! Satan commands!”

If Chaz Stevens has his way, those would be among the opening words of a prayer at a future city commission meeting.

Stevens, a blogger from Deerfield Beach, said he doesn’t believe in Satan. He’s an atheist. He said he just wants to show how ridiculous it is to pray at City Hall.

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“It’s a vehicle to show separation of church and state; equal protection for all religions,” Stevens said. “My whole point here is to really, really irritate the religious right.”

About half of Palm Beach County municipalities start their meetings with a prayer or invocation. Others simply recite the Pledge of Allegiance and perhaps provide a moment of silence. Palm Beach County commissioners lead an invocation themselves.

In Lake Worth, religious leaders are allowed to give an invocation. Last week, four city commissioners walked out of their own meeting as an atheist prepared to offer the evening’s invocation.

The atheist, Preston Smith, had waited six months for his moment. When the commissioners walked out, he muttered “Duly noted” and went into his invocation with only Commissioner Chris McVoy remaining.

“Our collective atheism — which is to say, loving empathy, scientific evidence, and critical thinking — leads us to believe that we can create a better, more equal community without religious divisions. May we pray together?”

Smith’s invocation mentioned Allah, Satan, Zeus, Jesus, Krishna and Thor, ending with “let us, above all, love one another, not to obtain mythical rewards for ourselves now, hereafter, or based on superstitious threats of eternal damnation, but rather, embrace secular-based principles of morality — and do good for goodness’ sake.

“And so we prayed. So what?”

The display prompted Stevens to make his request. “You open the door (for Smith) and you let me and Satan in,” he said.

Smith, of Lantana, said he did his invocation as part of a contest by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in May that governments can hold prayers, the foundation has called on people to give atheist invocations at public meetings. The goal is to get the decision reversed. There have been at least 14 atheist invocations since then, said foundation co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Government-sanctioned prayers can lead to alienation or even violence against citizens, Gaylor claims.

To prove her point, Gaylor uses two cases: one in Hawaii and one in Winter Park.

During a 2011 Hawaii Senate invocation, protesters stood, chanted “This is a violation of the Constitution!” for seven seconds, then sat back down. Police kicked them out and charged them with disorderly conduct, but a judge dropped the charges seven months later.

During a Winter Park city meeting in August, a man refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and the mayor had police kick him out. The mayor apologized at the next meeting.

“It shows that when you have a government taking a side, the believers become insiders, and the nonbelievers become outsiders,” Gaylor said.

That’s Smith’s reasoning, too. For those who refuse to rise for prayer, “I think there is a subliminal message sent to the petitioner (who refuses to stand),” he said.

Smith, who says he went to Catholic school in Texas, noticed most of Lake Worth’s invocations were led by Christians.

“What if a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Jew gave their invocation?” Smith asked. “You can’t just have one type of denomination. You need to have a variety to reflect the community.”

Mayor Pam Triolo, a Catholic, said rabbis sometimes lead the prayer, and other religions are welcome. Recently, one was led by a Quaker.

Commissioners said they walked out not because of the content of Smith’s invocation but because of a tweet he sent that they felt made light of rape. They were alerted to the tweet by Lake Worth resident Mark Parrilla.

Smith had sent a tweet to a Chicago tea party activist that made reference to his daughter, a biblical passage and rape.

While Triolo found the tweet offensive, Smith called it parody and said Triolo used it to discriminate against him because of his beliefs. Triolo said she would have stayed if she hadn’t seen the tweet.

Smith also asked to lead a prayer at a Palm Beach County Commission meeting, but County Attorney Denise Nieman told him no. A commissioner reads the prayer, not a member of the public, Nieman wrote to Smith Dec. 2.

Andrew Seidel of the Freedom Foundation responded by email two days later urging the county to stop the invocations.

“It is coercive, embarrassing, and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to be required to make a public showing of their nonbelief (by not rising or praying),” Seidel wrote.

If Stevens leads a Satanic prayer in Lake Worth, Triolo said she’ll stay for it.

Stevens, 50, admits he based his proposed prayer on Christian prayer. “I thought perhaps if you just cut and pasted Satan for God/Jesus/Joseph/Mary/Cool and the Gang, it might make the invocation seem, well, more palatable,” he wrote in an email.

Stevens emailed City Clerk Pam Lopez on Wednesday asking to lead a prayer. “Rest assured, no chickens or animal sacrifices will be involved in this invocation,” he wrote. “However, I’m doing my best to lay in a mariachi band.”

Lopez’s reply: Invocations are usually scheduled months in advance. When Smith asked for his in July, the earliest date Lopez offered was Aug. 19.

Stevens wants the city to get rid of invocations or switch to a moment of silence. “If Lake Worth had a moment of silence, I wouldn’t go to Lake Worth,” he said.

City Manager Mike Bornstein agrees with the second idea. “Yeah, and I want to just go to a moment of silence to stop all this stupidity and madness,” he wrote in an email.

Last December, state officials let Stevens put his nearly 6-foot-tall Festivus pole in the capital rotunda across the hall from a Christian Nativity scene. Festivus is a made-up holiday from a Seinfeld episode, and Stevens’ pole was made of empty cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Knowing this, Bornstein wrote, “Besides, I’m offended that he thinks Satan drinks PBR! I think he has an epicurean taste more like the most interesting man in the world, he doesn’t normally drink beer but when he does he prefers Dos Equis!”

Staff writer Joe Capozzi contributed to this story.



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