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Bill to ban Satanic displays ultimately blocked by Arizona lawmakers

A bill that would have forbidden representations of Satan on public property failed in the state Senate on Thursday when two Republicans opposed it alongside all the chamber’s Democrats.

The vote followed an incident two weeks ago, when Democratic Sen. Juan Mendez (D-Tempe) — an outspoken atheist — drew the ire of some Republicans for welcoming Satanists to the Capitol.

“This proposal isn’t even a dog whistle, this is a straight up attack on the rights of people and religion. Any religion that can be viewed by the sponsor or this committee if they view it to be a desecration to Christianity, you’re no longer safe in Arizona,” Mendez said in one of the bill’s hearings.

The bill passed its first hearings on party lines with Republican support, but when it came to a vote of the whole chamber, Sens. J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler) and Ken Bennett (R-Prescott) voted it down. 

Mesnard said he didn’t vote no because he is defending Satan — or defending Sparky the Sun Devil, the mascot of his alma mater, Arizona State University — but because he wants to protect religious freedom. 

“I’m obviously repulsed by Satanism, whatever that even means, but I oppose singling out a religious belief, however antithetical it may be to my own,” he said in a text.

When it comes to Sparky, there’s some disagreement about whether the bill would affect him. In other words, if he represents a devil or the Devil, since ASU is indeed public property.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek), a Christian, said in a text that the idea of Sparky being affected by the bill is a “conspiracy theory” that is “laughable at best” and “moronic at worst.”

There’s another reason he cited for the bill being necessary; an incident that occurred in December in Iowa, where the state Capitol allows religious displays in the holiday season. 

The Satanic Temple of Iowa brought a Satanic altar to the Capitol, including a pagan statue, which was damaged by a man who was recently charged with felony mischief. 

“I find it ironic that in Iowa you can knock over a Satanic display and you go to jail for that, but at the U.S. Capitol you can have a gay sex orgy in a government building and there is zero consequence. That is abhorrent and disgusting,” Hoffman said. 

His second comment references another story from December wherein a leaked video showed a congressional staffer having sex in what appeared to be a government building. The senator that staffer worked for announced soon after that the staffer was fired.

Hoffman argued that Satanism isn’t actually a religion, it’s the antithesis of it. 

“It is absolutely abhorrent that a Satanic memorial, statue, altar or display or any method or representation honoring Satan is displayed on public property,” Hoffman said.

Members of Arizona’s Satanic Temple spoke in opposition to Hoffman’s bill — noting that it was designated as a religion by the IRS.

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Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.