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Herman: Zimmerman wants new invocation system for council meetings

In a proposal with little prayer of winning approval before he leaves office, Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman — burned up about the invitation to a Satanic leader to give the invocation at Thursday’s council meeting — wants to change the way folks are selected to offer the inspirational words that kick off council sessions.

Under the current system, the city staff extends invitations from a list of clergy that includes people to whom the city reached out and of folks who asked to be on the list. Zimmerman says it’s a decision that should be made by elected officials, not “bureaucrats” who he said might act “out of fear” of turning anyone down, including a Satanist.

“That picking and choosing belongs to the people through their elected representatives,” Zimmerman said. “And if we are going to have a Satanist address the City Council, one of the elected council members needs to be responsible for it and invite that person and own up to it.”

Jeremy Galloway had asked to be on the city’s list of clergy. His title is speaker at the Satanic Temple Austin. The city staff invited him to offer the invocation at Thursday’s council meeting. He accepted and was on the agenda but had to back out because he is out of town on business.

Satanic Temple director Devin Desu insists it was no big deal that someone from his group was invited. The Satanic Temple, he said, is just “one of many religious organizations within the Austin community.”

The background on this City Hall flap, as I detailed in Wednesday’s paper, is interesting. It seems to have had its genesis at an April council meeting when Council Member Ann Kitchen sought approval of a resolution declaring Austin a “compassionate community.” Something about that rubbed Zimmerman’s Christianity the wrong way, and he amended it with language taken from the Satanic Temple website. Only he didn’t tell fellow council members it was from that website until after they approved it.

Kitchen’s resolution was approved, with Zimmerman the lone sayer of nay, after his amendment was stripped out. And that was kind of the last we heard of that, until July when the local Satanic Temple chapter was formed.

The group’s website marks that moment with this: “We begin with a simple invocation. Hail Satan! Hail Austin! Hail Don Zimmerman! We are here at last to bring much-needed Satanic insight to our beloved city!”

Hailing aside, Zimmerman’s a lame duck, having lost his Northwest Austin District 6 seat in November to Jimmy Flannigan. Zimmerman’s out in early January. He said that Council Member Ellen Troxclair has agreed to co-sponsor his proposal and keep it alive after he’s gone. Zimmerman would like to get it on a council agenda for first reading this month.

His proposed ordinance says: “Only a person invited by the Mayor, or by a Councilmember, shall be permitted to offer an invocation at a meeting of the City Council. Upon introduction of the person offering the invocation, the name of the inviting Councilmember, or of the Mayor if applicable, shall be stated and then noted in the official minutes of that particular City Council meeting.”

The proposal sets up a meeting-by-meeting rotation, starting with the mayor and followed, in numerical order, by each of the 10 council members by district. And no, you satanic wise guy, District 6 doesn’t get three consecutive selections.

Seems like a reasonable proposal. And I’m sure we all have our suspicions about which council member will be the first to invite somebody from the Satanic Temple.

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