little green footballs

Atheist AZ Lawmaker Quotes Carl Sagan Instead of Praying Before House Session

Wed, May 22, 2013 at 6:51:26 pm

Juan Mendez. Photo: Facebook

Arizona history was made yesterday:

An atheist state lawmaker tasked with delivering the opening prayer for this afternoon's session of the House of Representatives asked that people not bow their heads.

Democratic Representative Juan Mendez, of Tempe, instead spoke about his "secular humanist tradition" and even quoted author Carl Sagan.

"Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads," Mendez said. "I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state."

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There's a link to a video of Mendez's statement at the link above.

Arizona Senator Steve Smith. Photo: Ross D. Franklin

Today, Sen. Steve Smith tried to undo whatever horrible consequences were going to befall Arizona for this transgression:

An atheist lawmaker's decision to give the daily prayer at the Arizona House of Representatives triggered a do-over from a Christian lawmaker who said the previous day's prayer didn't pass muster.

Republican Rep. Steve Smith on Wednesday said the prayer offered by Democratic Rep. Juan Mendez of Tempe at the beginning of the previous day's floor session wasn't a prayer at all. So he asked other members to join him in a second daily prayer in "repentance," and about half the 60-member body did so. Both the Arizona House and Senate begin their sessions with a prayer and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

"When there's a time set aside to pray and to pledge, if you are a non-believer, don't ask for time to pray," said Smith, of Maricopa. "If you don't love this nation and want to pledge to it, don't say I want to lead this body in the pledge, and stand up there and say, 'you know what, instead of pledging, I love England' and (sit) down.

"That's not a pledge, and that wasn't a prayer, it's that simple," Smith said.

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Which then had its own backlash:

Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, who represents a northern Arizona district on the Navajo reservation, did take offense. She said Smith's criticism of another member's faith, or lack of it, was wrong.

"I want to remind the House and my colleagues and everybody here that several of us here are not Christianized. I'm a traditional Navajo, so I stand here every day and participate in prayers," even without personally embracing them, said Peshlakai, D-Cameron. "This is the United States, this is America, and we all represent different people ... and you need to respect that. Your God is no more powerful than my God. We all come from the same creator."

Those last two excerpts come from this article. Worth a click to read the rest.

Here's what the Arizona Senate did after Smith's double prayer:

A little religion could soon go a long way in avoiding unpopular government mandates.

The Arizona Senate passed a trio of bills Wednesday that seek to lower property taxes for religious institutions and make it easier for some people to sue over the First Amendment, much to the chagrin of civil liberties and secular groups who claim Arizona lawmakers are violating the U.S. Constitution by favoring the faithful over non-believers.

The Republican majority passed the bills amid opposition from Democratic lawmakers and with little debate. The legislation was backed by the powerful Center for Arizona Policy, which wields significant influence over conservative lawmakers in the Legislature.

Opponents of the measures argue religious institutions shouldn't receive special privileges not afforded to all Arizonans. They claim the bills seek to legalize discrimination and to stall the ongoing battle to extend equal rights to gay and secular communities.

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I hope those bills don't have a prayer.