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Mendez lambasted for comments during House prayer time

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A top House leader slapped down a Democratic lawmaker today for using the time set aside for prayer to instead give thanks for diverse beliefs — including the belief there is no higher power.

Majority Leader Steve Montenegro declared that Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, had violated House rules that require that each day’s session begin with a “prayer.” That’s because Mendez, an atheist, used the time to talk about the “pluralistic society.”

And he made a point of saying that, from his perspective seeking divine intervention or hoping for a place in the afterlife is unnecessary.

“We need not tomorrow’s promise of reward to do good deeds today,” Mendez said. “For some may seek the assistance of a higher power with hands in their air, there are those of us that are prepared to assist directly, with our hands to the earth.”

That invocation, Montenegro complained, left the House without the required prayer. So House Speaker David Gowan, who clearly was prepared for the dust-up, called the Rev. Mark Mucklow — who conveniently was on the House floor — to fulfill the obligation.

Mucklow obliged, with a lengthy prayer asking God to direct and lead lawmakers. And to put a point on what was missing before, he asked that “at least one voice today say, ‘Thank you, God bless you and bless your families.’ “

Then other lawmakers began piling on Mendez.

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said the time at the beginning of the session is set aside for prayer. He said lawmakers have a right to say anything else they want — but only after the prayer.

“I’m saddened and offended that a member of this body would knowingly disregard our call for prayer and our House rules,” he said. Finchem said there needs to be a time for prayer, “lifting this body up to the God that we speak of when we say our Pledge of Allegiance.”

“We are ‘One nation under God,’ “ Finchem said. “This republican form of government came out of the Book of Exodus,” he continued, saying “it is a matter of fact.”

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she believes the First Amendment is important.

“Not everybody in this room is Christian or Mormon or Jewish,” she continued. “I think it’s important we respect each other.”

But she said Mendez was wrong in using the time for the prayer for his invocation.

“It’s not time to be proselytizing even if you’re proselytizing something that’s not a religion,” Townsend said.

“I personally took offense at some of the words that were said,” she continued.

Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said he was upset about Mendez saying that while some look to a higher power that others help directly. He said Mendez was “impugning not me, but in a small way millions of people, women and men that are part of our pluralistic society that use their faith and their belief in a God … they allow to guide them in serving directly, every day and all day.”

Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, said he doesn’t personally believe as does Mendez.

“But he has every right to say and voice what he said on the floor today,” he said.

Montenegro pointed out that he put out a memo earlier in the session spelling out what is acceptable as a prayer under House rules. And he said what Mendez said does not comply.

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

Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said he doesn’t need a memo to know that what Mendez said is not a prayer.

“We know what it looks like, we know what it is,” he said.

“We also know what it looks like when someone is desecrating or mocking someone else’s beliefs,” Petersen said. And he said those who want to do that using his or her freedom of speech, they can — but not during the time reserve for prayer.

It appears that House leadership set up Mendez for the criticism.

Under House practice, the ability to give the prayer or bring in a guest to do that generally rotates among the members.

In January, Mendez had asked for his turn, only to be told that all the slots for the entire session were already reserved. Mendez said he was told that had nothing to do with the fact that he had offered an invocation three years ago where he urged fellow lawmakers “not to bow your heads” as he talked about “this extraordinary experience of being alive.”

But Mendez said Thursday that House leadership suddenly offered him the option of giving the daily prayer — knowing they already had a minister on the floor waiting to provide a second “true” prayer.

15 comments

  1. So much for the First Amendment.

  2. Warren Woodward

    Good to know the legislators are spending time on the really important stuff. Dangerous people like Mendez need to be corralled otherwise God may smite us.

    Why am I reminded of ISIS just now?

  3. I guess we know what sect Montenegro belongs to: the Intolerant Sect.

  4. I guess we know what sects Montenegro belongs to: the Sects of Intolerance and his own religious privilege.

  5. This prank reminds me of 7th grade, where the class bullies set up the outsider kid for humiliation, giggling behind their hands and pushing him around afterwards. Only children and those who have not matured beyond the child’s emotional level, or the pharisee who feels compelled to loudly and publicly proclaim his piety, would do something so childish and pointless. If you believe in god, do you have snarl and spit at someone who does not? What I find most amazing is that the perspective Mendez talked about is welcoming and inclusive, while the comments by the so-called “christians” is hateful and divisive. Is their faith so tenuous and difficult to maintain that to feel safe they must stage a public display of their piety and draw sharp lines between themselves and someone who sees the world differently? Shame on them.

  6. Zenaido Quintana

    Bravo Juan Mendez,

    Our elected representatives are not being asked to do God’s work. There are more than enough facilities around our city dedicated specifically for that. We want them to do our work while respecting the growing diversity of our State. To insist on parading their specific beliefs and their supposed piety is unconstitutional, unconvincing and unseemly.

  7. This is ridiculous! If you want to start your day with prayer then pray, but don’t make it a rule that everyone has to adhere to before our lawmakers can start the session.

  8. Thank you Rep. Wheeler, it’s important to remember that every American has the right to speak under the 1st Amendment, and that the Government should not be bolstering any religion, let alone just one (in this case the Judeo-Christian beliefs), under the same Amendment. Not everyone in your own district believes like you Rep. Gowan, and maybe you should show some respect for your constituents.

  9. The First Ammendment only applies when it’s for a reason we like. I mean it’s not for EVERYBODY. What is wrong with you, Steven? LOL!!

  10. I do believe “Separation of Church and State” is written in Federal Law!
    WHY doesn’t Arizona EVER apply it?
    So much wasted time on the floor of the House, debating this!
    I was raised in a Public School System where I said the Lord’s Prayer every morning, even though I was Jewish.
    I attended one University where I had to say the Doxology every morning, even though I was Jewish, and interpret Early and Victorian English Literature in a Christian mode.
    I have watched the panorama of events unfold until I can now share “A Moment of Silence” instead of saying things I do not wish to,
    and the backward State of Arizona has just set everyone back to 1950!– AGAIN!
    Live and let live!
    Remember the line,”G-d Helps Those Who Help Themselves!”
    That’s all the man was saying!
    Do NOT use Religion to control other people!

  11. Thank you, Mr. Mendez, for speaking where others like myself cannot.

    “As to religion, I hold it to be the indespensible duty of government to protect all conscientious protesters thereof, and I know of no other business government has to do therewith. ”
    – Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

  12. Anita Romanowski

    How wonderful of all these good christian people to give Mr. Mendez all the respect and consideration that their narrow little minds feel is due.

  13. This is another sad example of bullying by religious zealots. Christian laws like requiring Christian prayer before government meetings are unconstitutional. So is the vaunted “under God” in the pledge which was added in the ’50s. President Eisenhower gave you an inch and now you have taken a mile. Our government should be secular… pray all you want at church, that is the proper place. Get your prayers out of my government and the schools my taxpayer funds support.

  14. PS Montenegro’s definition of prayer, as supplicating an all-powerful deity, is only one of many — the one he prefers. The most common definition — that shows up everywhere, not just on pro-Christian blogs and pro-Muslim blogs — is “an earnest hope or wish.” In that case, Mendez’ address definitely fits, though his wish for religious tolerance obviously will go ungranted among those in the House who take their orders from the pulpit.

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