Battle For Pensacola
The Battle of Pensacola
Fr. William F. Broach
All Saints Anglican Church
Pensacola is a sleepy Gulf Coast town in the Bible Belt, where tourists and retirees share the sea and where new Naval Aviators learn to fly. It was established by the Panzacola tribe as early as the year 1250 and yet, where least expected, comes the unexpected. It centers on attempts to remove two monument crosses and it broadens into the shadows behind the events.
The first of the crosses is 25 feet tall and was erected in Bayview Park in 1941. The other is ten feet tall and, in 1959, was placed on Santa Rosa Island Beach where Tristan de Luna landed in 1559 to establish the first European settlement here.
A group of four sued the city, the Mayor and the Director of Parks and Recreation. They contended that the cross violated the 1st Amendment, that they were “offended” and that the Bayview cross should be removed.
Both sides filed motions for summary judgment. Last month Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled for the plaintiffs.
Judge Vinson concluded that: “The Bayview Cross violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court and circuit precedent and it must be removed within 30 days.” He ordered the city to pay damages of $1.
Judge Vinson made clear that he issued the ruling reluctantly. Early in his order, Vinson wrote: “The Bayview Cross is part of the rich history of Pensacola and of Bayview Park in particular.” He pointed out that many thousands have attended services in the park over the years and that it has also been the site of remembrance services on Veteran’s and Memorial Days, during which flowers were placed at the foot of the cross in honor of loved ones overseas and in memory of those who sacrificed their lives for our country.
But who were the four plaintiffs? Public records identify them as David Suhor, Andreiy and Amanda Kondrat’yev, and Andre Ryland, represented by the American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
In a footnote, Judge Vinson wrote that, “Three of the four plaintiffs arguably lack standing to continue this lawsuit,” since two of them have moved to Canada and one booked the site “for his self-described ‘Satanic purposes’’’ on Easter Sunday, thus forcing a church that had planned to use the site to move elsewhere. However, Vinson wrote, Ryland had “undisputed” standing to pursue the case.
Judge Vinson salted his ruling with further asides indicating that his personal views were at odds with current law on the subject. At one point he said that the founding fathers “…would have most likely found this lawsuit absurd. And if I were deciding this case on a blank slate, I would agree and grant the plaintiffs no relief. But, alas, that is not what we have here.” He also described the body of law related to the Establishment Clause as, “…historically unmoored, confusing, inconsistent, and almost universally criticized by both scholars and judges alike.”
Ultimately, the judge ruled that precedent was firmly established and that, “It is still the law of the land and I am not free to ignore it ... the law is the law.” Vinson indicated that the cross might not have to come down if the city sold or leased the area surrounding it to a private party of non-governmental entity, “…so long as the transfer was bona fide and not a subterfuge.”
Monica Miller, an attorney with the American Humanist Association’s legal center who had argued on behalf of the plaintiffs, said she was pleased with the ruling. She said, “The cross was totally unavoidable to park patrons and to have citizens foot the bill for such a religious symbol is both unfair and unconstitutional.”
All of which raise questions. What is the Satanic Temple of West Florida? What is the American Humanist Association? What are their sources of funding? How are they connected and what are their goals?
I think that, as servants of our Lord, we sometimes become so immersed in the daily exercises of prayer, theological research, and ministry, that the reality of the pure intent of evil aimed against the body of Christ becomes more theoretical than a fact of reality . . . until it manifests itself in our small towns and in our very families. To be clear, Satan is real.
Tracing the roots of these organizations isn’t difficult. Filled with growing confidence they are beginning to step from hiding. In the light of day, their hatred and aggression toward Christians should ring an alarm for all of us.
The parent Satanic Temple is located in Northampton, Mass. Its founders use the alias names “Lucien Greaves” and “Malcolm Jarry”. Together, they have done more for the Satanic brand than anyone since Anton LaVey, the San Francisco carnival worker who wrote, ‘The Satanic Bible’ (Avon, 1969). With a website, legal savvy and satire, the two have targeted Christianity.
According to Wikipedia, they report that their religion (or anti-religion) has about 20 chapters and 20,000 Facebook followers.
In 2013, the Satanic Temple achieved notoriety for its “pink mass,” enacted at the grave site of the mother of Fred Phelps, founder of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church. The ritual, involving same-sex couples kissing, was described on the Satanic Temple website as having turned Mr. Phelps’s mother “gay in the afterlife.”
Further in 2013, the name associated with the Satanic Temple’s email account was “Lucien Greaves.” When it became clear that the news media wanted to interview someone from the organization, Mr. Mesner adopted “Lucien Greaves” as his pseudonym. In 2013, Vice Magazine outed Mr. Greaves as Mr. Mesner and since that time he has answered to both names when, in fact, “Douglas Mesner” is a pseudonym he has apparently used for many years.
In July 2015, the Satanic Temple claimed victory after a court ordered a monument containing the Ten Commandments removed from the Oklahoma Capitol grounds. (The ACLU engineered the same in the Alabama State Capitol building). Although the Satanic Temple was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, their web page said their plan to place a statue of Baphomet, a goat-headed deity of occult legend, beside the Bayview monument on freedom-of-religion grounds and this may have forced the court’s hand.
On Aug. 15, 2016 a small group led by Adam Daniels and the leaders of Oklahoma City’s Church of Ahriman set the stage for their event in the Civic Center Music Hall. The mass and another ritual, which they called “The Consumption of Mary”, were abbreviated versions of what would happen at a Satanist church on Sunday. That April, the Satanic Temple used a crowdsourcing campaign to raise $800 for a rural Missouri woman’s trip to St. Louis to have an abortion.
The national Satanic Temple plans to continue what is described as law abiding activism and lawsuits. It is looking into using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to oppose abortion waiting periods, claiming that it violates the beliefs of Satanic doctors in the sanctity of good science, not the sanctity of human life.
They are currently looking for plaintiffs willing to identify as Satanists and will file suits against public schools that use in-school isolation and deprivation of bathroom access. Mr. Mesner said that such punishments “are physical or psychological abuse which violates the Satanic Temple principle of sovereignty of body and mind.”
The City of Pensacola will appeal a federal court ruling ordering the city to remove alongstanding cross in Bayview Park. Mayor Ashton Hayward has retained the services of the Washington, D.C. based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has agreed to take on the city’s appeal free of charge.
“The Bayview cross has played an important role in the history of Pensacola for over 75 years,” said Hayward. “We have a rich and diverse history that is worth celebrating. The Constitution doesn’t require us to erase our history just because part of that history is religious.”
In June, 2014 David Suhor, co-founder of the Satanic Temple of West Florida, spoke during an open forum for the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners in Pensacola and argued against the use of religious invocations. Eventually, he was invited to give an invocation of his own, which he accepted. The Freedom From Religion Foundation also sent the Board a letter on Suhor’s behalf, also supported by the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
A week later, Suhor spoke to a different audience, the Escambia County School Board, saying that they were not welcoming of non-religious viewpoints. He acknowledged that one board member invited him to deliver an invocation but he had a conflict on that date.
On February 13, 2014 Suhor was granted the opportunity to deliver an invocation before the Pensacola City Council.
On August 19, 2014 Suhor addressed the Escambia County School Board and advised them that their continued endorsement of prayer before a School Board is illegal according to Galloway v. Greece.
On September 2014, he was granted permission to give a Pagan invocation before the Escambia County Commissioners and, on July 19, 2016, wearing a black hooded robe, he opened the event with a Satanic prayer inside City Hall. Hundreds of attendees protested and about a third walked out.
Apart from the County Commission, the Pensacola City Council, which traditionally begins its meetings with Christian prayer, had also 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.
Wearing a hooded black robe, Mr. Suhor delivered the invocation but he was repeatedly disrupted by protesters, many of whom stood and tried to drown out his address with the Lord’s Prayer. Others were removed by police.
Two other individuals of significance are collaterally associated with what would appear to be a network of Satanists at work across the continent. They are Roy Speckhardt and Annie L. Gaylor.
Roy Speckhardtis executive director of the American Humanist Association where he actively promotes the humanist perspective on progressive political issues. Author of the 2015 Creating Change Through Humanismthat lays out how and why people can lead moral and ethical lives without belief in a higher power, he has appeared on CNN Headline News, Fox News, numerous national radio shows and has spoken to dozens of local humanist groups across the country. He also serves as a board member of the Humanist Institute, the Institute for Humanist Studies and the Secular Coalition for America Education Fund. He holds an M.B.A. from George Mason University, B.A. in Sociology from Mary Washington College and lives in Washington, D.C.
Annie Laurie Gayloris a co-founder of, and with her husband Dan Barker, a current co-president of, the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Until 2015 she was also the editor of the organization's newspaper, Freethought Today (published ten times per year). Gaylor is the author of several books including Woe to the Women; The Bible Tells Me So, Betrayal of Trust; Clergy Abuse of Children and, as editor, Women Without Superstition: No Gods - No Masters. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s School of Journalism in 1980 and describes herself as a feminist and a liberal.
In 2010, Gaylor received the Humanitarian Heroine award from the American Humanist Association. Gaylor has been an invited speaker at conferences including the 2012 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Australia and the regional conference of the Minnesota Atheists. She is on the speakers’ bureau of the Secular Student Alliance.
While the number of adherents in the Pensacola is unknown, Mr. Suhor’s West Florida chapter actively recruits through regular social gatherings. He is also seeking to address the Escambia County School Board regarding the implementation of “After School Satan”, a program designed to introduce children to the occult. As we watch the ominous development of demonic worship and the degradation of America, perhaps we should ask ourselves the obvious. Is America going to the devil? Many Christian leaders are speaking out, are guardedly saying it has, and that we are no longer a Christian nation. We need to wake up.
What we are witnessing is without precedent in our history. In the name of “pluralism” (equal time) debauchery and degradation are featured daily by our media and, as “news” outlets all seem to share the same scripts and opinions, our population becomes increasingly sensitized to the acceptance of yet more of the same. Can this all be coincidental?
Rev. Karl Payne commented, “For a country and people who have historically valued life more than death, truth more than deception and the rule of law and common sense more than tyranny or hedonism, the rise of Satanism probably comes as a shock but for those who have watched the promotion of occultism, spiritism, demonism and hedonism in the media in the name of ‘pluralism’ are not surprised. It is simply more evidence of our culture’s fascination with narcissism, death and rejection of common sense.”
It was the historian Arnold Toynbee who famously stated that countries crumble from within. He said, “I believe we are nearing the end of that same course in our country that once represented a light of hope and freedom to the world.”
Evil is becoming increasingly powerful and brazen as ungodliness and anti-Christianity expose themselves in this new world. What was once in the shadows in now in the spotlight and is today actively involved in trying to drive all things divine, decent and good, into obscurity. And will it stop there or will it continue into active persecution?
Do we remember when Israel turned away from God and to Baal? One of the names of Baal was “Baal Zevuv”, which means “Lord of the Flies”. When it was translated from Hebrew into Greek, then English, it became the more familiar “Beelzebub”.
Although we have always had to deal with the presence of evil, it has never manifested itself so overtly and with such increasing forcefulness, and the Satanic Temple of West Florida and it’s related anti-Christian affiliates is a prime example. The time has come when we accept that, as ministers, our calling is to be much more than students of history and theology existing as office gnomes; that the rise of Satanism is Biblical; that is much more than folklore and fantasy; and that it is here now.
The move against Christian symbology and children in Pensacola is, most assuredly, just the heat from the greater furnace containing the genuine article, the roaring fire that threatens the world. As ministers of our Lord we are called to embrace the courage given us by the Holy Spirit, to cease diluting Holy Scripture and retreating from one line in the sand after another, and to respond just as did the Disciples and Martyrs who continue to carry forward the Great Commission.