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The United States Law Week

Satanic Temple’s Religious Bias Suit Advances Against Scottsdale

Nov. 19, 2019, 3:34 PM

The Satanic Temple Inc. may pursue religious discrimination claims against Scottsdale, Ariz., stemming from the city’s refusal to let one of its chapter heads give an invocation at a public city council session, a federal court in Arizona said.

The Satanic Temple and Arizona chapter head Michelle Shortt have made a sufficient showing of religious belief to give them standing to pursue their claims, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona said. Evidence shows they view their beliefs as religious and sincerely held, it said.

Shortt and the temple alleged she was denied an opportunity to give an invocation when other religious groups have been allowed that privilege because the city disfavors their religious views. They sought a declaration that the city’s actions violated the establishment and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs have constitutional standing because they have shown they suffered an injury, the court said.

And they have “prudential” standing, meaning their complaint falls within the zone of interests protected by the constitutional guarantees at issue, the court said.

The city argued the plaintiffs aren’t protected by the establishment clause because they aren’t religious. Rather, it contended the plaintiffs constitute “an amalgam of shambolic corporate entities with no explicable structure, no clear system of control, no unified belief system, and a secular purpose.”

But the plaintiffs have made enough of a showing to plausibly suggest they have standing to pursue religious bias claims because they are religious, the court said.

Shortt, for example, testified she sought to give the invocation on behalf of the “religion” of “Satanism,” the court said.

And the FAQ section of the Satanic Temple’s website explains the religious nature of its beliefs, saying in part that “Satanism provides all that a religion should be without a compulsory attachment to untenable items of faith-based belief” and “a sense of identity, culture, community, and shared values,” the court said.

However, the court reserved for trial a more complete analysis of whether the plaintiffs’ views qualify as religious for purposes of the merits of their discrimination claim.

Kezhaya Law PLC and de Haan Law Firm PLLC represented the plaintiffs. Dickinson Wright PLLC represented Scottsdale.

The case is Satanic Temple, Inc. v. City of Scottsdale, 2019 BL 442648, D. Ariz., No. CV-18-00621, 11/18/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com