By Bob Christie
An atheist member of the Arizona House denied the chance to deliver the chamber’s opening prayer by majority Republican leaders last month got the opportunity Thursday, only to see leaders rule his prayer didn’t pass muster and call up a Christian pastor.
The opening prayer by Democrat Juan Mendez included a call to work to help the state and its residents flourish and to “honor the Constitution and the secular equality it brings.” But he didn’t pray to any deity, which infuriated some Republicans who are Christians.
Mendez said before the session that he had been invited to deliver the opening prayer by majority Republican leaders and that he didn’t plan to invoke God.
After his prayer, House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro said Mendez’s decision not to pray to God didn’t meet House rules he issued earlier this year for the opening prayer. Speaker David Gowan then said “point of order well taken” and called on a Baptist minister on hand in an apparently planned response.
“At least let one voice today say thank you, God bless you,” the Rev. Mark Mucklow said in closing.
The minister’s invocation was followed by sharp comments from several Republicans who took issue with Mendez’s prayer.
Rep. Warren Peterson, R-Gilbert, said prayers have been part of legislative meetings “since the founding of this great country.”
“You know what it looks like, you know what it is, it has a long-standing tradition,” Peterson said. “We also know what it looks like when somebody is desecrating and mocking someone else’s beliefs.”
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