The Satanic Temple, Inc., et al v. City of Scottsdale

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The Satanic Temple attorney Stu de Haan and Plaintiff Michelle Shortt of Arizona TST chapter giving interview with local Fox affiliate
The Satanic Temple, Inc., et al v. City of Scottsdale
Filing Date 2/26/2018
Original Jurisdiction US District Court for the District of Arizona
Plaintiff Satanic Temple and Michelle Shortt
Defendant Scottsdale, City of, WJ Layne, Suzanne Klapp, Virginia Korte, Kathy Littlefield, Guy Phillips and David Smith
Intervenor N/A
State Arizona
Case# 2:2018cv00621
Original Result Failed
First Appeal Affirmed (failed)[1]
Second Appeal N/A
Final Result N/A

The Satanic Temple, Inc., et al v. City of Scottsdale is a federal district court case begun in 2018 after the city of Scottsdale revoked an invitation for The Satanic Temple to give an opening invocation at the city council in April 2016.[2]

The Satanic Temple sued the city of Scottsdale in federal district court over the invocation's revocation, alleging "Establishment Clause violations" of the Constitution.[3] The United Federation of Churches, LLC and Michelle Shortt lost the initial case at bench trial in February 2020.[4][5][6] As The Satanic Temple Inc. and with Adversarial Truth LLC, they appealed the decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit of Appeals and argued the case in March 2021. In May 2021, the original district court decision was upheld on appeal.

Appeals Court Summary

Appellants The Satanic Temple, Inc., Michelle Shortt, United Federation of Churches LLC, Adversarial Truth LLC, and The Satanic Temple (collectively called “TST” or “Appellants”) sued Appellee the City of Scottsdale (“the City” or “Appellee”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the City discriminated against TST on the basis of TST’s religious beliefs, after the City declined to permit TST to give a religious invocation at a City Council meeting. After a two-day bench trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of the City, finding that TST had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the City had discriminated against TST on the basis of TST’s religious beliefs or identity. Following the district court’s judgment, TST filed a motion for supplemental and amended findings (“Motion for Reconsideration”) that was denied, except for one additional finding that was made by the district court. This appeal followed.

Excerpts from Appeals Court Decision

TST’s Motion for Reconsideration contained many new arguments that had not been framed in the Final Pretrial Order, including various facial challenges to the City’s policy for selecting groups to give invocations at City Council meetings. ... Further, where TST did not raise or analyze issues in its Opening Brief to this court, those issues were also waived. ... In its opening brief, TST failed to challenge the district court’s determination that TST had waived arguments not raised in the Final Pretrial Order, so TST has waived this challenge on appeal.
The district court analyzed TST’s Establishment Clause and Equal Protection claims under the second theory of Monell liability, whether the policymaker carried out the decision making in an unlawful or discriminatory manner, because TST did not argue at trial that the City’s policy was facially discriminatory.
The district court made factual findings that Acting City Manager Brian Biesemeyer’s testimony was credible, that Biesemeyer was responsible for all administrative decisions not delegated to another City officer, that he had exercised his administrative power to determine if TST was authorized by city policy to give the prayer after conferring with the City Attorney’s office, and that TST’s largely circumstantial case for discrimination hinged on facts Biesemeyer was unaware of or unaffected by. TST fails to demonstrate that any of the district court’s factual findings were erroneous. After weighing the credibility of the witnesses, the district court properly concluded that TST had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that TST’s religious beliefs were a factor, let alone a substantial motivating factor, in Biesemeyer’s decision not to approve TST to give a legislative prayer. Therefore, the district court did not err in determining that TST failed to show an Establishment Clause or Equal Protection Clause violation under Monell.
Appellants complain that the district court erred in excluding TST’s Exhibits 5 and 8 as inadmissible hearsay. ... The district court correctly concluded that the e-mails were not admissible under Rule 801(d)(2)(D), and were inadmissible as hearsay, because TST provided no evidence to show that either Councilmember was acting as an agent of the City in connection with sending the e-mails. ... Additionally, TST cannot demonstrate prejudice from the district court’s exclusion of this evidence. The district court correctly found that even if the e-mails had been admitted, they would not alter the outcome of the case, because TST had not presented any evidence that Biesemeyer ever saw or knew about the e-mails or spoke with the Councilmembers about their views. The district court’s exclusion of the exhibits was not an abuse of discretion.

As explanation for the exclusion there is a note:

The City requests that the Court strike the fifth volume of TST’s Excerpts of Record, comprising pages 559 through 707, because the documents lack the exhibit cover sheets affixed by the deputy clerk of the district court, are not copies of the original trial exhibits, and do not correspond with the designated exhibit numbers offered at trial. The motion is GRANTED.


  1. United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision upholding lower court ruling
  2. Associated Press, staff, Officials say Scottsdale will bar the Satanic Temple from leading a scheduled prayer at a City Council meeting in July. City spokesman Kelly Corsette says Scottsdale informed the Satanic Temple's Arizona chapter that only representatives from institutions that have a substantial connection to the Scottsdale community will be allowed to give the invocation.
  3. Complaint (Injunctive relief sought), filed by Stuart de Haan 2/23/2018.
  4. Order and Judgment, by DAVID G. CAMPBELL, Senior District Judge, 02/05/2020
  5. 20-15338 - Case Filed: Feb 26, 2018; Terminated: Feb 06, 2020
  6. A U.S. District Court judge ruled this month that Scottsdale did not discriminate against the Satanic Temple when the city blocked a member of the group from giving an invocation before a City Council meeting in 2016. Judge David Campbell ruled the Satanic Temple did not prove the city had denied its request because of its religious beliefs. Scottsdale wins court battle against Satanists over right to give invocation; Satanists appeal, Arizona Republic, Feb. 29, 2020 Cached