Atheist lawmaker’s prayer sets off Arizona House dispute

Mar 8, 2016

Photo credit: Bob Christie/Associated Press

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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22 comments on “Atheist lawmaker’s prayer sets off Arizona House dispute

  • @OP “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.”

    Perhaps small minded bigotry should be mocked!
    Especially when it forced upon others as an abuse of office!



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  • This is an example why it is so hard to change anything in the USA.
    We cling to our “tradition” just like the Islamic terrorists.

    The “lawmakers” here are obviously in defiance of the Constitution and don’t care.
    The wolves are in charge of the chickens. And there are no “laws” unless they agree with them.



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  • 3
    Stardusty Psyche says:

    Peterson said. “We also know what it looks like when somebody is desecrating and mocking someone else’s beliefs.”

    Yes, for example, having a follow up prayer when the designated individual’s statement is deemed unacceptable.

    I do indeed feel my beliefs have been desecrated and mocked. But since when do such theists care about the beliefs of their fellow Americans who disagree with them?

    Honoring beliefs is important, so long as they do not oppose Peterson’s beliefs, quite apparently.



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  • @OP – Rep. Warren Peterson, R-Gilbert, said prayers have been part of legislative meetings “since the founding of this great country.”

    But he was probably wearing his faith-interpretation-blinkers at the time of reaching that conclusion!

    After all – anyone who can read / fail to read, the bible and conclude that it is a guide to morality, probably has a brain which functions as a woo-sponge, rather than a research tool!



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  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

    Seems like the superstitious members have a right to pray to whatever.
    The atheist should stay respectful of their right (Sam Harris would probably meditate) and only complain when they use their superstitious beliefs to make law.



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  • I believe lawmakers in Arizona and all other states in the US should be required to mention god in their institutional prayers as many times as god is mentioned in the U.S. Declaration of Independence



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  • Charles #6
    Mar 9, 2016 at 10:23 am

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

    Seems like the superstitious members have a right to pray to whatever.

    Not while they are employed on state business in the USA, and not if they are inflicting their beliefs on others by using the authority of their public employment.

    The atheist should stay respectful of their right (Sam Harris would probably meditate) and only complain when they use their superstitious beliefs to make law.

    This excludes the above responsibilities. Public employees are there to serve the pubic according to constitutional laws, not to do as they please!

    Atheists respect their right to pray on their own time! Not in work time!

    These people would be the first to complain if a Muslim majority required them to participate kneeling prostrated facing Mecca 5 times a day, as part of participating in state business.



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  • As I recall US office holders are required to swear allegiance to the constitution!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Religious_Test_Clause
    The No Religious Test Clause of the United States Constitution is a clause within Article VI, Clause 3. By its plain terms, no federal office holder or employee can be required to adhere to or accept any particular religion or doctrine as a prerequisite to holding a federal office or a federal government job. It immediately follows a clause requiring all federal and state officers to take an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution. This clause contains the only explicit reference to religion in the original seven articles of the U.S. Constitution.

    The ban on religious tests contained in this clause protects only federal office holders and employees. It does not apply to the states, many of which imposed religious tests at the time of the nation’s founding. State tests limited public offices to Christians or, in some states, only to Protestants.

    Perhaps these pro-theocracy representatives, are trying to re-establish an ancient Protestant monopoly on state offices, ignoring equality legislation!



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  • Shawn #10
    Mar 9, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    This is why atheists often invoke “Lucifer” because even though they do not believe in “Lucifer” they see “Lucifer” as a symbol of freedom from religion,

    I have not heard of this. There can’t be many atheists citing one supernatural fantasy to upset the followers of another!

    Promoting reason, does not have much to do with triggering tantrums in the deluded!



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  • The worst part of this entire thing is the picture used for the article.

    They could have just used his official profile picture, or even an eyes-half-open shot, but they went with the one that portrayed Rep. Mendez as a crazed villain. And the lighting just gives him a nice subtle hint of demonic sociopath.

    A+ journalism by the Washington Post. Just sticking to the facts and letting the reader come to their own conclusions. Bias-free.



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  • My first thought this is a waste of intelligence, time & paper, the next thought was that this is ridiculous, no seriously, prayer from the beginning of this great country, god was included? really, I didn’t know this. I had heard that they had an opening speech similar to Juan Mendez’s one.“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.” & so it’s a tradition? & mocking someone else’s belief, worse would be if he decided as a joke to put it under the name of Allah laugh out loud. But, really this is too stupid, now I understand why there are many uneducated people in America



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  • Karina #15
    Mar 10, 2016 at 5:46 am

    These contorted activities arise from the religious, rather than dropping the intrusion of religions into state business meetings, have fought this to a legal fudged position, where all philosophies must be given equal access, rather than being excluded.
    They are now taking this a step further, and trying to pick and choose only ones which are “correctly deluded”!



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  • @ #11- worst part is the picture

    Looks as if the photo came from ‘Night Gallery’.

    No image problem with Justin Trudeau this morning…

    Was pleased to hear Pres. Obama mention first nations people and climate change; however, added with his diversity remark, was “church/temple/mosque/synagogue”. Politic to say it but hello, non-believers vote also!

    (Side-note), just learned a major mid-west baseball team shoehorned ‘God Bless America’ song into “seventh inning stretch”. A big deal with auditions; I liken it to a weed that takes advantage of any crack.



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  • “What’s necessary is lawful’; praying at this forum is without a legal power granted to the officials by the people and therefore any act of prayer at a public office is unnecessary and improper.



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  • Logically you would think a prayer that did not mention any deity would be less offensive than one that mentioned Ganesh, remover of obstacles. Or is the ban on any non-Christian prayer of any kind. That is clearly unconstitutional.



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  • Why doesn’t a large group of leading and respected scientists in the U.S. come together and issue a statement in a major newspaper (or similar) emphasising that there is no evidence whatsoever for there being a deity that people keep having to praying to! OK – so it’s tradition to have a chamber’s opening prayer – but we’re now in the 21st Century and there comes a time when there needs to be an overhaul of these persistent medieval beliefs that people still cling to.



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