"Arizona State Senate" by Willem van Bergen / CC BY-SA 2.0

Humanist Delivers Invocation in AZ Senate: “Be the Curators of Inspiration”

Apr 2, 2019

By Hemant Mehta

Yesterday morning, Robert Peoples of the Affinis Humanity Coalition delivered a secular invocation before the Arizona State Senate as a guest of State Senator Andrea Dalessandro and the Secular Coalition for Arizona.

If you want to see how someone can be inspirational without talking about God, you have to check this out.

Thank you for the introduction and welcoming me, president and colleagues. And thank you, Secular Coalition of Arizona, for requesting me today.

Ladies and gentlemen, today, you will hear an invocation, not particularly as a man of faith but as a man of reason.

I am a Secular Humanist. Traditionally, you have been asked to bow your heads and pray. But today, I ask that you raise your heads and close your eyes. It is incumbent for this office to exude policy under the auspice of reason. The residents in our state of Arizona look upon this office as a guide for intellectual methodologies to resolve disparities.

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22 comments on “Humanist Delivers Invocation in AZ Senate: “Be the Curators of Inspiration”

  • 1
    Michael 100 says:

    Allow me to express some mixed feelings.  On one hand, I suppose it’s better to hear a humanist speak rather than a theist.  On the other hand, I wonder it’s wise for those who do not believe in the supernatural to imitate those who do. 

    I just went to Merriam-Webster website (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/invocation) and see two apropos definitions:  1) the act or process of petitioning for help or support, specifically, often capitalized – a prayer of entreaty (as at the beginning of a service of worship); and 2) a calling upon for authority or justification.  There are a couple other definitions, but I don’t think they apply here – an incantation or an act of legal or moral implementation.  In my opinion, and invocation is another word for a prayer.    

    It seems to me that a governmental function, such as a legislative session, should be strictly secular without the necessity to invoke the blessings or inspiration of some imaginary higher power – a god or otherwise.  Why not simply bang a gavel and announce that the legislature is in session and that those present should give their attention to the business of the day.  Maybe, however, invoking human reason and good sense rather than the mercy of almighty god, is a good first step.  I’m reminded of the song from Fiddler on the Roof – TRADITION!

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  • Michael100

    I agree with you regarding how this ought to be. I see it as a business meeting that should proceed with an efficient list of points that need to be discussed and then decided on. Why would we need to have a moment of groveling and sniveling to the mean old man in the sky?

    For now though, since this bad habit is so firmly entrenched, I’m hoping for a strategy that has worked in the public school system of my town.

    When my kids were young, the classes used to let moms bring in cupcakes for the entire class on their child’s birthday. Also, classes celebrated Christmas with decorations and singing, and all of the national holidays as well. As our town became more diverse, very slowly, those minorities started making their presence known in the schools and those moms would show up on Islamic, Jewish, and Hindu holidays with snacks, decorations and singing for the kids.

    I think you can see that the classrooms became an intolerable three ring circus. Minorities complained about the dominance of Christmas and soon no Christmas trees were allowed. Everyone was party fatigued and it was decided that all holiday and birthday celebrations would henceforth be reserved for families at home!

    Perhaps this secularization strategy will work for our Town Hall meetings and government meeting and displays of all types. When the Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists and the Pastafarians all converge on the lecterns of our government, maybe some genius will have the bright idea of just taking attendance and then launching into the list of items for the daily business!!

    Christians must learn that they are not living in a theocracy and that their religion is not the only one that counts and that we are perfectly capable of getting things done without appealing to their own personal imaginary friend in the sky.

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  • Micheal

    Methadone  or cold turkey I suppose.



    That happened/happens this n the U.K.  For me, the start of the thinking behind Brexit. A big backlash from the British Christians. Council offices tried to ban Christmas but failed. So many ch of British life was being taken off the shelves. I don’t blame the brits from reacting the way they did despite most of it being too jingoistic for me. The threat made them sit up and and want to hold on to things they never cared about before. Even their bent bananas, which was never at risk. Jim Davidson entertaining the troops was gone from prime time TV to late in the night. Britishness, albeit from the 60s and 70s, was being banished. Made David Cameron remind everyone that the U.K. is a Christian country. Seemed like a combination of other religions pushing for recognition and football hooligans and lager louts making it embarrassing to be English. Too much too soon. English identity was being threatened and woke something up in the people. Jokes about them that was seen as being funny now was intolerable. More cold turkey than trying to wean people off.

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  • Olgun

    I see your point and I understand that people are worried that their own special cultures are being obliterated. I won’t speak for UK because the situation seems different but in US we have a constitutionally mandated separation of church and state and the fact of the matter is that our founding fathers were opposed to a state religion. This is not obvious to our Christian fundamentalists, apparently. Pity they won’t read the writings of our own revolutionaries and learn what they hated and feared: state religions and coercion by the despicable clergy who are always in league with royalty and other dictators.

    Our fundamentalist Christians believe the founding fathers to be pious Protestants but they have confused them with the Mayflower passengers who came here for religious freedom for themselves (nobody else) and to make a few quid on the side.

    I also don’t think most Americans are aware of the distinctly anti-religious aspect of the French revolution which the American revolutionaries were well aware of. From my reading, I believe the American revolutionaries were bitter, wary and scornful of religion and would never have created a religious state. Not saying they were atheists but who knows? It’s easy to find blasphemous quotes by most of them.

    I don’t want to lose any ground on the separation of church/state thing. Christians are already over the line and the minute we try to push back they go screaming and wailing about persecution.

    Now you’ve got me wondering what it means to be an American and what it means to be British. Whatever it means to be American, religion has nothing to do with it for me.

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  • 5
    Michael 100 says:

    Olgun — “Methadone or cold turkey” exactly.

    LaurieB #2, I think you’re right that the more minorities, including secular humanists, exert their rights to be heard, the more the Christians will see the wisdom of Mr. Jefferson’s wall of separation.  (Build that wall!  Lol).

    Regarding your comments in #4, I think a lot of the founders were Deists, they were just born too early to appreciate the scientific discoveries that the Enlightenment period was about to usher in. But, as you say, they were anything but fundamentalist Christians — remember the Jefferson bible.  People forget that before the Enlightenment, the church in Europe was as oppressive as the aristocracy— in many cases the two were one-in-the same.  It was not uncommon for the prince to be an archbishop, and the monarch was the head of the state church; the pope of Rome was the king of the Papal States until they were forcibly taken in a revolution in the 1800s.  Many times the eldest son would inherit the throne, or family business, and the younger sons would be made cardinals or abbots, and daughters, who didn’t marry into another wealthy family, would be abbesses.  The abbeys were huge estates that exploited the local population.  Religion wasn’t about superstition, it was big business!  People paid taxes, in the form of labor, produce, an what little money they had, to the church.  It wasn’t for nothing that the European revolutions were so anti religious. The last thing our founders wanted was a state church, but so many people were coming to the New world to escape religious persecution, mostly by the state churches and bringing their sects with them, that the only thing that made sense to the educated American founders was to keep churches and the state completely apart.  Otherwise there would have been religious wars here as in Europe. So much confusion and misinformation was dumped on the American people in the 1950s — in reaction to The New Deal.  See Kevin kruse’s book, One Nation Under God.  

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  • Thanks Laurie, Micheal. I did not know any of that. I only knew the Pilgrim fathers story. As surprised as when I found out that a part of the money my local council collects goes to the parish.


    Have been trying to figure out what this British thing is all about ever since Brexit began. I have been ‘lucky’ to have worked my way up the ranks of the British class system (rubbing shoulders that is) to know it means something different in each case.

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  • Olgun,

    I’m guessing we’re not alone in this line of thinking. Everyone I know here is rethinking what it means to be American. What the hell do we stand for? The almighty American buck?  Is that it? I never imagined in my wildest nightmares that almost half of this country would support Trump and his stupid disgusting policies and opinions. Ok, ok, so I obviously live in a liberal blue bubble. Sue me. 🙂

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  • Laurie


    From the outside, America seems as if it has got itself stuck in a vicious circle of the American buck and trying to police the world. Any foreign business plan seems to come with a fleet of war ships. Even I found myself screaming ‘no’ at the television when Obama announced he was pulling troops out of Iraq. Too much clearing up to do. He had the right intentions but just killing Osama wasn’t the end of it. Even Trump has realised the mess Bush created isn’t that easy to get out of.


    The UK. Well, it seems we are clinging onto anything that floats still waving the flag watching the ship go down. A bit like the last throws of the Ottoman Empire not knowing who to turn to. Maybe even taking on the title of the sick man of Europe.

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  • 9
    Michael 100 says:

    I was thinking about my remarks regarding the oppressive nature of church and how it was dealt with in the French Revolution. I found the following information with just a little searching in Wikipedia:

    “Under the Ancien Régime, the Church had been the largest single landowner in the country, owning about 10% of the land in the kingdom.  The Church was exempt from paying taxes to the government, while it levied a tithe – a 10% tax on income, often collected in the form of crops – on the general population, only a fraction of which it then redistributed to the poor.”

    So after the revolution:

    “Legislation sanctioned on 4 August 1789 abolished the Church’s authority to impose the tithe. In an attempt to address the financial crisis, the Assembly declared, on 2 November 1789, that the property of the Church was “at the disposal of the nation”. They used this property to back a new currency, the assignats. Thus, the nation had now also taken on the responsibility of the Church, which included paying the clergy and caring for the poor, the sick and the orphaned.  In December, the Assembly began to sell the lands to the highest bidder to raise revenue, effectively decreasing the value of the assignats by 25% in two years. In autumn 1789, legislation abolished monastic vows and on 13 February 1790 all religious orders were dissolved.  Monks and nuns were encouraged to return to private life and a small percentage did eventually marry. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed on 12 July 1790, turned the remaining clergy into employees of the state. This established an election system for parish priests and bishops and set a pay rate for the clergy.”

    Needless to say, the church in Rome was not happy.  Remember, the pope was still the king of the Papal States. The pope at the time of the revolution was Pius VI.  He was born Giovanni Angelo Braschi to Count Marco Aurelio Tommaso Braschi and Ana Teresa Bandi.  He was pope from February 15, 1775 to his death in 1799.  As pope, he:

    “… condemned the French Revolution and the suppression of the Gallican Church that resulted from it. French troops commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte defeated the papal troops and occupied the Papal States in 1796. In 1798, upon his refusal to renounce his temporal power, Pius was taken prisoner and transported to France. He died one year later in Valence.”

    Today, the church wants us to think of it as this sort of “other worldly” organization, but it really didn’t get that way until the time of Pius IX, when the remaining Papal States were taken from the pope. When Stalin asked how many legions the pope had, maybe it was a reasonable question.  While I don’t think the pope will be raising an army any time in the near future, I think this information is relevant and important to remember when the Christians want bring their prayers into legislative assemblies.  And while this particular information is about the Roman church, I suspect similar tales could be told about the Church of England, and the Lutheran churches in Germany and Scandinavia.

  • 10
    Cairsley says:

    Michael, you raise a very interesting topic of historical development, namely the changes in relations between church and state from the Middle Ages onwards. The example you presented was the revolutionary government in France towards the end of the eighteenth century. If you consider an earlier example, say King Henry VIII’s “Great Matter” and how the king sought to settle it and related matters to his satisfaction (with immense political, religious and social consequences), you will find the same underlying thinking to be at work. In both cases, religion and politics were regarded as necessarily inseparable, and conflicts between church and state were resolved by the irrevocable assertion of the state’s authority over the church’s and the state’s assuming responsibility for administration of the church. For this reason I can assure you there is no need to worry that the Church of England and the Lutherans of Germany and Scandinavia may at times have caused similar troubles as the Roman Catholic Church had generated for centuries. Those newer churches were formed as part of the societies emerging from the spiritual overlordship of the Holy Roman See. As reformed churches, they were mindful of Holy Writ, where they read Matthew 22:21 and Romans 13:1, and have ever thus known their place in the political landscape — subservient to the prince (or the representative assembly that has taken his place). The religious troublemakers that you have in the United States today are the successors of the various nonconformist Protestants who left Britain and the Continent for the express purpose of escaping control of an insufficiently Christian state and founding a truly righteous Christian commonwealth in the New World. Not for them that inspired piece of legislation in the First Amendment of the US Constitution whereby government and religion are separated. They, like the popes of old, claim to heed a higher authority.

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  • 11
    Michael 100 says:

    Cairsley #10:  What you say about “the various nonconformist Protestants who left Britain and the Continent for the express purpose of escaping control of an insufficiently Christian state and founding a truly righteous Christian commonwealth in the New World,” is so true.  The first thing they did was to establish their governing entities based on their reading of the bible.  The first thing that leaps to mind is the Salem witch trials, but Salem was not alone by any means. 
    At the place where I work, every month a journal entitled “Liberty” arrives in the mail.  It’s a publication of The Seventh Day Adventist church.  Despite its obvious religious bent, it sometimes has some marginally interesting articles.  In the March/April issue there is an article, which promises to be the first in a series, about the origin of the so called “blue laws.”  This article focuses on the area which ultimately became the state of Connecticut.  Among other things, the Code of 1650 provided the death penalty for witchcraft and for blasphemy as well as for worshiping “any other God but the Lord God.”  One must wonder what other gods were being worshiped in 1650 in Connecticut.  Other penalties, such as fines, being put into stocks, and “whipping” were prescribed for offences such as being contemptuous of preaching, not attending church on Sunday and other holy days, and fornication.  In 1639, they passed a resolution which stated that only church members were eligible to be Burgesses, magistrates or officers.
    By 1776, when the colonists decided it was time to separate themselves from the Crown and become an independent nation, the drafters of the founding documents were educated individuals who were influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, and they wisely knew that the State Churches had no place in the new country.  In addition to the First Amendment to the Constitution which provides that the government shall not establish a church or prevent the free exercise of religion, the main body of the document provides that “… no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”  Article VI.
    It seems to be a never-ending battle.  Most, if not all, discriminatory laws are justified on the basis of the teachings of various religions.  Right now, in the US, it’s Christianity, but in other places other dominant religions do the same thing.  That’s why the Christians want to begin their legislative sessions by invoking the deity.  Which brings us right back to the initial question in this thread – should humanists take their turns at the morning prayer sessions, or should we just refuse to partake at all in those religious exercises.  I think Olgun # 3 got it correct when he framed the question, “Methadone or cold turkey I suppose.” 
    I’m happy that several Democratic candidates this year have chosen to end their stump speeches with something like “Good bye and thanks for coming,” rather than the “god bless you and the United States of America,” nonsense.  Wouldn’t be nice if the next presidential inaugural takes place without any – none at all – religious invocations, and the new president simply raises his/her hand and swears to uphold the laws and constitution of the United States.  Dream on, Michael, dream on.

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  • Here is what I should have written before posting that video in #12!


    Our politicians in the U.K. can learn a lot (did I say a lot, I meant a massive amount) by being truthful on immigration and our ageing population and, treating its population like adults. We would not be in this mess of Brexit if it had done. I won’t hold my breath that it will happen any time soon because as soon as a British person becomes a politician, they take on a persona and arrogance that they do not deserve. The arrogance of empire seems to still lap the shores of Britain even in its immigrants.


    Here’s how it should be done!

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  • Cairsley, Laurie


    It has always seemed so simple to me (although I had begun to lose faith in my own thinking) that if you treat your children like know-nothing idiots it will one day come back to haunt you. Treating a whole population like that, and recently Theresa May doing that to parliament as a whole, and by  thinking they cannot handle the details and the truth allows lies and misconceptions to flourish (Phils lesson in the film Captain Fantastic). There is me trying to explain to Brexiters that we have not lost control of our borders and that we need these people because we have an ageing population and that most of the “developed” world is suffering in the same way, has not gotten through to even one them. Just a few more Trudeau’s or Merkel’s and what a different world this would be. We need to create a hell to put some these people like Trump into!

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  • 17
    Michael 100 says:

    Olgun ## 12 & 13:  Thanks for that link.  What a pleasure to hear an intelligent voice responding, in a respectful way, to the misinformation expressed by the individual who asked the question.
    As you say in # 16, the idea that the nations of Western Europe or North America have lost control of the boarders is just ludicrous.  Those who think that way are the very ones who want to stand up in public places and invoke the blessings of an imaginary god who they think confirms their prejudices.
    When someone like Justin Trudeau is contrasted with the current president of the United States, the difference is sadly overwhelming.  Although its early in the nomination process – it’s said that 24 hours is a life time in politics – I like the candidacy of Pete Buttigieg.  Buttigieg is not perfect (who is?), but there is no comparison to the fascist buffoon we have now.  Wouldn’t it be great to hear Buttigieg and Trudeau having a conversation about the importance of the separation of church and state, and of governmental policy, including immigration policy, based on scientific evidence.  It would be like hearing Professor Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens having a conversation – who would want to stop listening?

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  • Micheal #17


    Thanks for introducing me to Pete. Wow, wow and wow. Watched the video below. Stopped at, “we are going to run a campaign that is not all about Trump”.  Didn’t need to hear any more (not specifically true. I watched a couple of others first) My type of campaign. Will watch his progress with interest. “Health care for those that want it and then see if more people will sign up and build it up that way”. Yep, you got me Pete. No negatives in his speech is another hit for me. Too long we have had negative politics. Thanks again.

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  • 20
    Michael 100 says:

    Oligun, that’s a good video and explains why I really like Buttigieg.  I haven’t heard him espouse a single policy issue with which I disagree, I think he is an excellent spokesman for the Democratic Party.  In #11, above, I mentioned that some of the Democratic candidates were ending their stump speeches without invoking a god – Pete is one of those candidates.  I also like very much that he, like me, is in a happy marriage with a man.  On the downside, he’s a member of a church, Episcopalian – the American branch of the Church of England.  Now, it was in that church that he and his husband were married.  Here are a couple links to good discussions of Buttigieg’s religious beliefs — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2JGN72gMpw  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSt6KBU3HCM 

    Okay, I get it, life is complicated and nobody’s perfect.  Until I’m persuaded otherwise, I’ll be in Pete’s corner. 

  • Michael #20

    The first video I saw was of him having a dig at Pence (your second link) and have to admit I had to check myself that he was in fact religious. But, in another video, he backed science in explaining that global warming has to be tackled yesterday. If he can transform his religion and America at the same time then I have no problem with any of that. I don’t understand how people can live in both worlds but if he can manage it and stay true to scientific fact then he has my vote as a person even though I can’t vote for him directly in any elections. I really can’t find any fault in a person praying to a god to help science solve problems and make life better for everyone.

    I have only once worked in a house where a married gay couple had set up home and was really glad of the positive experience. Another three gay friends of a friend didn’t fair so well. Hated the world that made them feel like outsiders and lose their lives in the way they did. If Pete can change all that then I would like to live in that world.

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  • 22
    Michael 100 says:

    I agree with everything you said in # 21 Olgun.  I hope Pete Buttigieg keeps up the momentum he’s generated so far. It would be nice to have a candidate who can inspire some enthusiasm. So far, the other candidates are okay, but I fear they don’t have what it takes to win the general election for one reason or another. In my opinion, Pete may have what it takes to go all the way to the White House.

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