Arizona Atheist Gives Opening Legislative Prayer

MENDEZArizona had an extraordinary moment this week during the opening prayer. No it is not what you think of some sectarian screed or other controversy. To the contrary, it was an unprecedented act of inclusion when the legislature allowed an atheist to open the session. 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, is an atheist and opened the session by asking his colleagues not to bow their heads but look at each other.

Mendez told his colleagues:

“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. 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.

This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration,” Mendez said. “But this is also a room where, as my secular humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love.”

He added, “Carl Sagan once wrote, ‘For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.'”

For atheists, it was a rare occasion for inclusion. Despite the increasing attacks on atheists and agnostics that we have been discussing, this was a moment of tolerance that is worth noting . . . and celebrating.

Source: New Times

42 thoughts on “Arizona Atheist Gives Opening Legislative Prayer”

  1. nick,

    I have a similar story but of Protestant origins. Parents were atheists so Aunt secretly baptized their baby. (Which makes no sense as the Protestant rite of Baptism is the Congregations coming together and agreeing to help the parents raise the child in a godly manner)

    Fast forward 35 years and the baby, now a 35 year old man, after much thought and discussion with wife and minister, decides to join with his infant daughter in being baptized. No other members of the family were informed until the Sunday morning the rite was to be performed. They all thought they were attending the infant daughter’s baptism.

    The minister informs the congregation that two baptisms will take place. The Aunt swoons. Much consternation ensues.

    I sang my solo and got out of there!

  2. Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry, that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right, that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them: Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

    ~Virginia’s Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom, penned by Thos. Jefferson. One of only three accolades (being President of the US wasn’t one of them) carved into his granite obelisk tombstone in the family plot along the winding path to his home at Monticello. Worth reading today. Apparently Arizona got the memo.

  3. Blouise, Recently, there was a mini scandal in my extended family. My wife grew up in a smaller Wi. town. There was only one hospital, a Catholic one. So..unless you were to drive 30 miles, that’s where babies were born in this town. My wife’s family were Methodist, but she was born @ St. Mary’s, as was her brother. My mother-in-law lives in assisted living in this same town. Her new friend is a Catholic woman next door. They were discussing their children and St. Mary’s recently. My mother-in-law told her friend her daughter was a preemie and had to spend several days in the hospital. The friend then matter of factly said, “Oh..then Sister Margaret baptized her.” My mother-in-law reportedly gasped! The friend went on to say. “Yeah, any preemies were quickly baptized by sister, in case they died. If an unbaptized baby dies they spend eternity in limbo.” The backdrop is my wife’s grandfather was a Catholic bigot..big time. So, your understanding of your Catholic friend is a tribute to you. There a million Catholic stories, many funny but some not. Congregational is big in New England where I grew up..the biggest of the pagan Protestants. I see very few in my neck o’ the woods. Not many in Missouri or Illinois either.

  4. Well my question is, why was the woman not killed in the storm if she is an atheist? Wolf should have followed up on that, asking her what saved her if it was not “the Lord.” Why is one person saved by “the Lord” and another person survives without “the Lord’s” intervention, while “the Lord” is powerless to save yet a third person? Inquiring minds want to know these things, Wolf, and it is your job to inform us.

  5. ap, I’m sorry I missed your point. Please let me know if you wish to.

  6. Nick,

    You missed my point about your statement… Never mind.

  7. I think this is kind of cool. Don’t see it happening in our state anytime soon. In most states, the chance of an openly admitted atheist getting elected to the legislature is about the same as me being elected Pope.

    Any time I hear people talking about “putting prayer back in school,” I have this overwhelming urge to say, “That’s a great idea. Monday can be for the Baptists, Tuesday the Muslims, Wednesday the Methodists, Thursday for Wiccans, and Friday for Jews.” Then my list for the following week includes atheists, Unitarians, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs.

    So far I have been able to restrain myself, but I can only hold out for so long.

  8. For atheists, it was a rare occasion for inclusion. Despite the increasing attacks on atheists and agnostics that we have been discussing, this was a moment of tolerance that is worth noting . . . and celebrating.


  9. nick,

    One of my best friends since grade school is still trying to save my immortal soul by leading me back from my Congregational roots to her Catholicism.

    We have never let the state of my d*mnation get in the way of a nice glass of wine and a gab-fest.

  10. I’m not assuming he’s dumb. There is corroboration daily. This idiot is CNN’s anchor. And they wonder why their ratings are below the Mendoza line.

  11. ap, If you ever saw Blitzer’s performance on Jeopardy you would understand. -nick


    Questionable assumptions…

  12. ap, If you ever saw Blitzer’s performance on Jeopardy you would understand. He’s dumber than dirt. On the flip side, the producer of The Daily Show joked about God punishing red states. Ignorance and hate is equally distributed.

  13. Blouise, Although I was raised Catholic, my kids were raised Presbyterian. My daughter and son are both big baseball fans like, their old man. We were @ a Brewer’s game when she was ~7. Both teams had several Latino players who would make the sign of the cross when they came up to bat. She asked me, “Dad, why do they do that criss crossy thingy?” My aunt Julia who went to mass every day would have had a stroke if she heard that.

  14. 🙂 , Blouise.

    This might be of interest to anyone who may have missed it:

    Wolf Blitzer Asks Atheist Tornado Survivor If She ‘Thanks The Lord’ (VIDEO)

    “Wolf Blitzer put his foot in his mouth for a moment on Tuesday while interviewing a survivor of the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla.

    “We’re happy you’re here. You guys did a great job,” Blitzer said to Rebecca Vitsmun, who escaped from her house with her 19-month-old son right before the twister tore through it. “You’ve gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?”

    Vitsmun hesitates for a moment and smiles. “I — I’m actually an atheist,” she said, laughing off the awkward moment.

    “You are. All right. But you made the right call,” Blitzer said.

    “We are here, and I don’t blame anyone for thanking the Lord,” Vitsmun said.

    Though she handled the situation graciously, Blitzer would be well-advised not to assume that every interview subject believes in God. After all, America experienced a 13 percent drop in religiosity between 2005 and 2012, according to a WIN-Gallup poll published last year.”

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