Tag Archive: Arizona

Arizona Republican House Legislators Offended over Juan Mendez’s Secular Prayer

juan mendez

Arizona House Democrat Juan Mendez.  Representative Mendez is an atheist.

What follows is a video of Arizona House Democrat Representative Juan Mendez offering a secular prayer at the start of the legislative session. The video also shows the reaction of Christian Republican legislators to Representative Mendez’s prayer. Only one legislator defended Mendez’s prayer — assistant Democratic leader Representative Bruce Wheeler. I was astounded to hear Wheeler — a Roman Catholic — state that Catholic legislators are not permitted to attend the weekly Arizona House Bible study. Let this video be a reminder of what happens when Evangelicals ignore the law and carve out special rights for their religion.

Video Link

Thanks to my heathen buddy Jim Schoch — a resident of Arizona — for making me aware of this video.

Here is what Arizona Capital Time writer Howard Fischer had to say about the matter:

A top House leader slapped down a Democratic lawmaker today for using the time set aside for prayer to instead give thanks for diverse beliefs — including the belief there is no higher power.

Majority Leader Steve Montenegro declared that Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, had violated House rules that require that each day’s session begin with a “prayer.” That’s because Mendez, an atheist, used the time to talk about the “pluralistic society.”

And he made a point of saying that, from his perspective seeking divine intervention or hoping for a place in the afterlife is unnecessary.

“We need not tomorrow’s promise of reward to do good deeds today,” Mendez said. “For some may seek the assistance of a higher power with hands in their air, there are those of us that are prepared to assist directly, with our hands to the earth.”

That invocation, Montenegro complained, left the House without the required prayer. So House Speaker David Gowan, who clearly was prepared for the dust-up, called the Rev. Mark Mucklow — who conveniently was on the House floor — to fulfill the obligation.

Mucklow obliged, with a lengthy prayer asking God to direct and lead lawmakers. And to put a point on what was missing before, he asked that “at least one voice today say, ‘Thank you, God bless you and bless your families.’ “

Then other lawmakers began piling on Mendez.

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said the time at the beginning of the session is set aside for prayer. He said lawmakers have a right to say anything else they want — but only after the prayer.

“I’m saddened and offended that a member of this body would knowingly disregard our call for prayer and our House rules,” he said. Finchem said there needs to be a time for prayer, “lifting this body up to the God that we speak of when we say our Pledge of Allegiance.”

“We are ‘One nation under God,’ “ Finchem said. “This republican form of government came out of the Book of Exodus,” he continued, saying “it is a matter of fact.”

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she believes the First Amendment is important.

“Not everybody in this room is Christian or Mormon or Jewish,” she continued. “I think it’s important we respect each other.”

But she said Mendez was wrong in using the time for the prayer for his invocation.

“It’s not time to be proselytizing even if you’re proselytizing something that’s not a religion,” Townsend said.

“I personally took offense at some of the words that were said,” she continued.

Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said he was upset about Mendez saying that while some look to a higher power that others help directly. He said Mendez was “impugning not me, but in a small way millions of people, women and men that are part of our pluralistic society that use their faith and their belief in a God … they allow to guide them in serving directly, every day and all day.”

Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, said he doesn’t personally believe as does Mendez.

“But he has every right to say and voice what he said on the floor today,” he said.

Montenegro pointed out that he put out a memo earlier in the session spelling out what is acceptable as a prayer under House rules. And he said what Mendez said does not comply.

“Prayer, as commonly understood and in the long-honored tradition of the Arizona House of Representatives, is a solemn request for guidance and help from God,” Montenegro wrote in that memo. He said anything else — including a moment of silence — does not meet that requirement.

Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said he doesn’t need a memo to know that what Mendez said is not a prayer.

“We know what it looks like, we know what it is,” he said.

“We also know what it looks like when someone is desecrating or mocking someone else’s beliefs,” Petersen said. And he said those who want to do that using his or her freedom of speech, they can — but not during the time reserve for prayer.
….

 

Atheism in Arizona

arizona

My good friend, former Evangelical pastor Jim Schoch, sent me a link today to an article about atheism in Arizona. According to azfamily.com:

It’s a long-honored tradition at the Arizona state Capitol. Lawmakers pray every day at the start of the session.

“The country was founded on certain Christian beliefs,” Sen. Steve Smith said.” We have people give Jewish prayers, Mormon prayers, Christian prayers, Catholic prayers, all kinds of prayers.”

But if you don’t identify with a particular religion, you can no longer be a part of that opening prayer.

“I find myself not being able to give a prayer,” Rep. Juan Mendez, a self-proclaimed atheist, said.

In 2013, all lawmakers took turns giving the prayer. When it was Mendez’ turn, he didn’t want to do it.

“I actually tried to not do the prayer. I avoided it,” he recalled. “They essentially made me give a prayer. So, I scrambled to even understand what it would mean for me, and it took me awhile.”

….

Mendez gave the invocation again in 2014, and he wanted to get on the calendar this year, the same day the Secular Coalition for Arizona would be at the Capitol.

Mendez was denied this time around because he “doesn’t invoke a higher power,” part of the new rules just put into place by House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro.

….

“It’s frankly disgusting,” Arizona State University Professor Lawrence Krauss, a well-known atheist, said. “How can something that is respectful be insulting?

“We are allowed to treat someone with total disrespect because they lack faith, that we would never do to someone who claimed to be religious,” he continued.

Why?

According to Krauss, a world-renowned theoretical physicist and best-selling author, some people equate no beliefs with no values.

“[Some have] the idea that somehow if you question the existence of God, you’re a bad person, that the only way to be moral is to believe in God,” Krauss said.

….

Krauss says atheists are seen as “more negative than no experience, financial impropriety, adultery or in this case, even being a Muslim. Somehow, atheism is associated with evil.

He says people are afraid of anything that threatens their faith and that asking questions will confront it.

“It’s kind of amazing, religion has captured the market on morality,” he said.

Krauss has a theory.

“Obviously, if you look at the First World, I think it’s education,” he explained. “As the populace becomes more educated, their willingness to believe myths decreases, and their willingness to openly ask questions increases.”

….

Numbers show nonbelievers account for about 23 percent of Americans, yet Mendez is the only admitted atheist in the Arizona Legislature.

“You can be good without necessarily having a god,” Mendez said. “I’m here to do positive, good work.”

Mendez said his constituents don’t have a problem with his lack of faith. His only challenges seem to come from his colleagues at the Capitol.

He points out that more often than not, the prayer is usually the same call to action referencing the same couple of names from the same religion.

“To where it really normalizes it and makes it sound like we all have one religion down here,” Mendez said.

“We haven’t been able to find a proper and nondiscriminatory way to have people participate in the prayer, and now it’s going to be something that much more divides us,” he said.

You can read the entire article here. By the way, in 2008, seventeen percent of Arizonans were NONES. 2014? Twenty seven percent.

NONES by State. 2014 Pew Research Landscape Study

nones by state 2014 pew research