We recently celebrated the showing of tolerance in Arizona when the legislators allowed an atheist member to give the opening “prayer.” 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. That did not sit well with Arizona State Rep. Steven Smith who proceeded the next day to give not one, but two prayers. The second prayer was to express “repentance” of the secular invocation offered the day before by Mendez. He was joined by half of the Arizona lawmakers in using prayer as a condemnation of Mendez and atheists.
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.'”
It appears that those words filled Smith and many of his colleagues with rage. Smith describes himself as a religious conservative. His faith does not extend it appears to the protection a healthy environmental for families. He received a zero from environmentalists for his voting while receiving near a 100% from the NRA. However, what really distinguishes him now is his sectarian and religious prejudice.
Smith is the the Director of a Phoenix-based Talent Agency and bills himself as basing his public life on “GOD, FAMILY, COUNTRY.” It is the God part that proves a recurring political theme for Smith, whose campaign literature proclaims “As devout Christians, Steve and his family strive to live their lives according to God’s will.” He was “ranked #1 by the Goldwater Institute, the Pachyderm Coalition, and named ‘Champion of the Taxpayer’ by Americans for Prosperity.”
Smith’s second prayer was meant to negate the prior inclusion of atheists and nonbelievers before the legislature. He proclaimed “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.”
So to recap. For a day, Arizona was celebrated around the world as a symbol of tolerance and pluralism. Smith then stepped forward to denounce such inclusion as an affront requiring repentance from the legislators. That is his legacy and the legacy of his colleagues who joined him. With religious violence and hatred sweeping the world, they wanted to be on record as rejecting the inclusion of atheists and secularists.
Source: Washington Post