Technically this isn't a violation of Church and State by the
government, but it is an interesting event, because over the years
it has almost been impossible for an atheist to get elected to
a public office.
Arizona lawmaker: I’m an atheist
By Mary K. Reinhart The Republic | azcentral.com Tue May 21, 2013 10:06 PM
A state lawmaker acknowledged that he is an atheist as he gave the daily House invocation Tuesday, urging legislators to look at each other, rather than bow their heads, and “celebrate our shared humanness.”
Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, who said it was freeing to be open about his secular views, also introduced about a dozen fellow members of the Secular Coalition for Arizona who watched from the House gallery.
The House and Senate convene with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Members take turns giving the prayer or inviting a religious leader to do so — similar to practices that have taken place for centuries in Congress, statehouses and city halls throughout the country.
Mendez’s secular invocation comes as the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on whether prayers can be offered at government meetings.
An appeals court last year ruled unconstitutional the practice in Greece, N.Y., of having Christian pastors give prayers before public meetings. The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom appealed and the high-court ruling, expected by June 2014, will resolve conflicting appeals-court rulings about religious expression.
Tuesday’s invocation was to have been given by Serah Blain, executive director of the Secular Coalition of Arizona. But Mendez said House staff had no record of his request to allow Blain’s remarks, so he offered the remarks himself.
“This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration,” he 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.”
House lawmakers appeared to have no reaction to Mendez’s remarks.
But in a statement Monday on the Supreme Court case, Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, defended the practice of praying before government meetings.
“The outcome of this case could very well preserve or eliminate one of the great American traditions, which poses no threat to the secular nature of the business of the state,” he said.
Blain leads a growing coalition that represents 17 secular organizations at the Legislature, focused on pushing back against the powerful Christian-based Center for Arizona Policy and promoting a death-with-dignity law and science-based sex education in schools.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that people with no religious affiliation make up the third-largest group worldwide, after Christians and Muslims. About 20 percent of people in the U.S. say they are religiously unaffiliated.