A self-described Satanist and "religious freedom activist" who had been facing criminal charges for allegedly disrupting public meetings has been acquitted of all charges, the Associated Press reports.
David Suhor never cared for the fact that some governmental entities in and around his home town of Pensacola, Florida, would sometimes begin meetings by reciting a Christian prayer. In protest of the act, which he describes as unconstitutional, he started making a habit of showing up at public meetings, demanding the opportunity to say a prayer of his own, as The Pensacola News Journal reported in 2017.
Suhor claimed that if there were going to be prayers offered up to the god of Christianity at government meetings, then the only fair thing to do was to allow anyone, of any religion, to offer up a prayer of their own to their own deity. Suhor, for his part, was allowed to begin a meeting with an invocation to Satan at least once, in July 2017, an event that put Charles Bare, the Pensacola City Council's president at the time, in an awkward position. After allowing the prayer, Bare received heated backlash in the media and in his personal life.
Since then, Suhor has been showing up at meetings, often dressing in dark robes, to attempt to be allowed to pray. When denied, he would begin praying anyway.Things came to a head in February of last year, when Suhor attempted to pray before an Emerald Coast Utilities Authority meeting. After being told multiple times to stop, Suhor was forcibly removed from the room. It was not the first time he had been forced out of a meeting, but as The Pensacola News Journal reported in August 2018, it was the first time he was criminally charged for it; this time for trespassing and resisting arrest.
In August he was convicted on both charges, and he immediately appealed the decision.
On Thursday, First Judicial Circuit Court Judge Jan Shackelford reversed Suhor's conviction on the basis of lack of evidence.
"Simply asking a member of the public to leave the area does not amount to issuing a trespass warning."Speaking to his hometown newspaper, Suhor said he welcomes the victory.
"I feel good that we won. I feel that it's absolutely ridiculous that it got to this point."Across the country, governmental bodies open meetings with prayers, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The Supreme Court has said that such a thing is allowed, within certain limits. Such prayers, for example, cannot promote the religion of the person praying, threaten damnation to the hearers, or attempt to convert them.