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House to Mendez: No God, no prayer

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A prayer is only a prayer if it refers to God, at least according to the state House of Representatives.

And that means atheists like Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, can’t give the official prayer that starts off every session.

That unofficial policy was adopted last month by House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park. So the prayer on Monday — the day Mendez wanted because the Secular Coalition of Arizona was at the Capitol — was instead offered by a minister who made repeated references to the Almighty as well as Jesus Christ.

But Mendez did an end run of sorts: He used his right to make personal comments to offer a secular invocation of his own after the official prayer, saying the diversity of Arizona includes people of different religions “and lack thereof.”

“We need not tomorrow’s promise of reward to do good deeds today,” Mendez said in his floor speech.

Until recently, it was the practice to rotate the prayer among House members. They could give the invocation themselves or select someone else.

So three years ago, when it was Mendez’s turn, he urged fellow lawmakers “not to bow your heads” as he talked about “this extraordinary experience of being alive.” That provoked an angry reaction from several of his colleagues.

This year, Mendez said he made a request on the first day of the session in January to give the prayer on Monday. Mendez was told that day was already spoken for.

Shortly thereafter, Montenegro put out a memo saying that the House rules that require the day start with a prayer requires something that specifically refers to a higher power.

“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. He said anything else — including a moment of silence — does not meet that requirement.

Montenegro would not discuss his memo.

But press aide Stephanie Grisham said the policy is legal, saying the U.S. Supreme Court has concluded that prayer, by definition, requires a reference to a higher power.

Mendez acknowledged that prayer could be considered a supplication, asking for some outside force to intercede. But he insisted prayers need not refer to God, nor that those who pray need to believe.

“In a lot of my prayers I ask for us to have faith in our community, in humanity, in our constituents, in ourselves down here” at the Capitol, he said.

“I may not see the same higher power,” Mendez continued. But he conceded he is “calling for some kind of higher power.”

But House Speaker David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said he agrees that prayer should refer to God.

“I’m a Christian man and believe that prayer has to be of God,” he said.

“The Lord is near and dear to my heart,” Gowan continued. “So when I do my prayers, it’s to God.”

Montenegro’s memo on what is permissible prayer was written before the dust-up at the Phoenix City Council when the Satanic Temple put in for its turn to offer a prayer. When city legal staff told council members they could not legally exclude the group, the council voted to eliminate the prayer entirely.

The memo from Montenegro says no faith will be excluded or favored in considering requests to give the prayer. It also says the privilege of leading the prayer “must not be exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.”

13 comments

  1. Well that’s unconstitutional. You can’t pick and choose what religious positions are “acceptable”- it’s either access to all or access for none. Thought this **** was cleared up with Greece v. Galloway.

  2. Here is a novel, step-by-step solution I would like to propose for the House:

    One. Sit down
    Two. Get your *** to work.
    Three. Repeat step two until end of session.

    Questions?

  3. Get ready to lose an expensive lawsuit, idiots!

  4. The arrogance of these “Christian” lawmakers is appalling. Someone needs to remind them that they are not running the show. We are all in this together and it is high time they stopped getting special treatment just because they say they believe in God. Shame on them for not understanding the Constitution and our laws.

  5. This indeed looks like “establishment” to me. This clearly institutes a state religion. It is clearly unconstitutional. Perhaps they need to eliminate the prayer altogether.

  6. These extremist Christians keep pushing a spurious version of American history to enact a theocratic government that would have been anathema to our Founding Fathers. Thank you to the one legislator brave enough to stand up and say, “Enough!”

  7. Why is going on in Arizona that so many cowards get elected? Are you really so sensitive that you can’t hear anything that doesn’t conform to what you already believe?

  8. Mendez is correctly using one of the lesser known definitions of a focus for a prayer, that of a lofty idea or philosophy, but it is not well known or accepted by the general populace. To have the Arizona Legislature’s unofficial position taken to the Supreme Court for a ‘rule of law’ ruling for logical, not emotional, reasons would be a good thing, IMO.

  9. I’m a Christian and this is blatantly violating the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Contrary to conservative popular belief Christians do NOT have more rights and privileges than Muslims, Atheist, Pagans, Jews in other minority religious groups.

  10. separation of church & state what does it mean ?

  11. Government cannot define the nature of prayer or religion. To do so is a clear violation of the first amendment. Fascinating how these right wing Republicans constantly ranting about “getting back to the Constitution”, consistently demonstrate they have no clue what the Constitution actually says.

  12. A prayer according to the dictionary since, apparently people are saying that the government is trying to define it is, “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.” This is according to the the Google dictionary. Prayer is for GOD. That is the reason for it’s existence. The fact that people try to change it for something, does not mean that the definition itself changes. Prayer is for GOD, it is an act of worship and a way to ask for help or thanks. That is what the Congressmen were trying to do. When Rep. Mendez prays, who or what is he praying to? He is an Atheists. Atheists believe in no GOD or gods. Being an Atheists is not a religion. Having a lack of religion is NOT a religion. Religion is defined as by the Merriam-Webster as, “the belief in a god or in a group of gods.” or, “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.” You have to believe in GOD or a god in order for it to be a religion and to pray. Praying to oneself or to nothing in result, is invalid and an unfulfilled purpose for what religion and prayer are.

  13. Looks like another egregious example of persecution of Christianity.

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