In Response to Rep. Juan Mendez’s Godless Invocation in Arizona, His Colleague Delivered a Second Christian Prayer Today

Yesterday, Rep. Juan Mendez of Arizona gave a really beautiful godless invocation in the state House of Representatives.

Today, Republican Rep. Steve Smith — unable to deal with an invocation that looked inward to what we can do instead of outward to what an imaginary God could do — lashed out against Mendez:

Rep. Steve Smith

He said if Mendez did not want to offer a prayer, he should have skipped his turn in what had traditionally been a rotation among members.

And to make up for that lack, Smith insisted Wednesday on offering a prayer — actually the second for the day — “for repentance of yesterday,” asking asked colleagues to stand and “give our due respect to the creator of the universe.”

Smith’s implication, of course, is what most governments (at all levels) try to avoid. These invocations are allowed precisely because they don’t all have to be Christian (even though they usually are). By suggesting that Mendez should have paid respect to the Christian God — which, let’s face it, is what he meant — he’s suggesting the state House do something unconstitutional.

At least a couple of Mendez’s colleagues had his back, though:

“We have Native Americans out there that are not Christianized like myself,” [Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, R-Cameron] said.

Yet Peshlakai said she and others have never made a fuss over those prayers. And she said it was inappropriate of Smith to criticize what Mendez did.

House Speaker Andy Tobin, who described himself as a “prayerful person,” said he Mendez did nothing wrong.

This is why what Mendez did is such a big deal. Not only did he come out as an atheist, he let the whole State House know that it represents (and includes!) people who are not just Christian.

By trying to “make up” for yesterday’s lost prayer with a double dose today, Smith inadvertently opened up the Christian Playbook and showed us that invocations aren’t really about tradition and ceremonial deism at all. It’s all about paying homage to the Christian majority’s God.

And that’s why these prayers should be a private thing, not something a government does as part of its daily business.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Pluto Animus

    Email for this pathetic Republican piece of trash:

    stevesmith@azleg.gov

    Have at ‘em, kids.

    • Seráh Blain

      If you do email Representative Smith, please make sure you represent our community respectfully. Part of what we hoped to do with Representative Mendez’s invocation was to show that nontheists have positive, ethical ideals and that we deserve a voice in the legislative process. Please be sure not to feed Smith anything he can use against Mendez or Arizona’s secular movement!

      • M. Elaine

        Yes, please. Let’s not sound like the crank mail that FFRF publishes in their newsletter.

        • Matt

          Here is the message I sent to Mr. Smith. I hope it represents us well.

          Mr. Smith,

          As an atheist American, I wanted to write to you to inform you of how deeply disappointed I am in your decision to hold a second invocation yesterday which was, in your words, “for repentance of yesterday.” Referring specifically to the secular invocation given by your colleague Juan Mendez. His invocation was not meant as a slap in the face of any particular religious group, but was meant to show people like me in this country that we have a voice, and that we should be welcome to feel included in all aspects of our government, something that has been sorely lacking during my 30 years on this earth. While you feel their may have been reason to repent for Mr. Mendez’ wonderful invocation, that decision is one that you are welcome to make personally, within your own heart and mind. To force it upon the other members of your congregation is not only morally wrong, and violates the bible to which you subscribe, but it is also a very serious gray issue in terms of legality. By claiming that the entire House must repent for the action of Mr. Mendez’ you are promoting a clear link between the Arizona house of Representatives and the Christian faith, a very serious violation of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In the future, please understand that not only are there many more people like myself out there, quite a few of whom may also be your own constituents, but that we are growing in number, and want all of the respect that people of your faith have garnered for many years. We deserve that respect as citizens of this country, and your alienation of us will do you no favors in representing us as you have chosen to do so by becoming a member of congress.

          Thank you for your time.

          Matthew Rodrigues

          • Matt

            Balls, a typo! Their does not equal there dummy. :)

            • Charles Honeycutt

              Ah damn, now he can just Grammar Nazi up and dismiss the whole thing. :P

              Kidding. I kid! He’ll dismiss it regardless.

              Well written though!

              • Matt

                Thanks! Ill be sure to report back if I hear anything from him. I am not holding my breath that this will happen.

                • Matt

                  Update! No response from Mr. Smith. I am shocked.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I wonder if Rep. Steve Smith will have one of these in his pocket next time.

  • The Other Weirdo

    And that’s why these prayers should be a private thing, not something a government does as part of its daily business.

    You mean like Matthew 6:5-8 commands?

    • GabyYYZ

      It’s NIV, not a legit translation, unlike King James. :)

      • Garnack

        Their is not legit translation as an original has never been recovered, any version is about as true as the next.

        • TCC

          Please note the emoticon in the last message and return to your knee to its normal position.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Never let it be said that I cruelly withheld information from the world. Matthew 6:5-8 KJV.

        ;)

  • Sven2547

    An astonishingly selfish and shortsighted position from Mr. Smith.
    Unfortunately, this is quite typical of Republican thought. Double standards for everything.

    • DDCarroll

      You seem to equate Republican to religion. I am conservative about the role government. I am also an atheist. Where’s the double standard in that?
      It’s easy to define people into boxes. It’s quite another to respect the integrity of someone with whom you disagree.

      • Charles Honeycutt

        Republican is not synonymous with Conservative. The Republican Party is infected with Smith’s kind of thinking at every level. They make the Democratic Party look virtuous and rational by comparison, which is really saying something.

      • Sven2547

        I said “Republican”, not “conservative”.
        There’s nothing hypocritical about being a conservative atheist.
        It IS hypocritical to be an atheist who votes for the Christian-supremacist platform of the Republican Party.

      • Seráh Blain

        In Arizona, the Republican Party is explicitly religious. The party platform invokes God five times, and the Center for Arizona Policy, an affiliate of Focus on the Family’s advocacy arm, is hugely influential in both elections and legislation in the Republican Party. I often say that while the Secular Coalition for Arizona is a nonpartisan organization–and we do work on both sides of the aisle, particularly on veterans’ issues–we do not have a real Republican Party in Arizona; we have a Center for Arizona Policy party, and this has landed us with a theocratic legislature.

      • Mario Strada

        Even though I am a liberal and I have always been one, I respect conservatives. As far as I can tell, the Republican party has very few of those. What is conservative about the platform of the Republican party? They are more interested in a theocracy and politically speaking they are much closer to the Italian Fascist party of the 1920′s than anything else close to true conservatism.

        Since I doubt you are a fascist or a theocrat, you should not feel singled out.

      • DougI

        An Atheist Republican? Not surprising. There were Christian Communists in the Soviet Union and Jewish Nazis in Germany. So why not?

      • Baby_Raptor

        You see integrity anywhere in Conservatives? I sure as hell don’t. There’s nothing truthful, helpful or generally good about “small government,” which is the usual conservative idea. It’s all “Fuck you, I’ve got mine.”

        • Justin

          As opposed to, “Fuck you; we’ll take yours?”

          • Helix Luco

            and use it to make sure everybody has enough to eat

      • MD

        The GOP hasn’t been the party of conservatives for about, oh, 30 years.

      • Gus Snarp

        If you’re a Republican, your party has left you. The actual elected party officials, as well as the majority of those who vote in Republican primaries, are so beholden to religion that a candidate cannot publicly say they accept evolution.

  • Lori F – MN

    What a butt-head.
    Way to show your [lack of] class, Smith.

  • http://www.sugarpiesfood.com/ Buck

    I remember explaining the background of the seminal case on the establishment clause to a friend some years back. She had never considered that christians actively prohibited and discouraged others in their beliefs (or non-beliefs) by requiring these “traditional” prayers.

    Steve Smith did a great service in exposing the real agenda of religious politicians in this country – an establishment of an approved religion which all will be required to follow or pay homage to or else be ostracized from the public square.

  • atheisticallyyours

    I so want to shake Mendez’s hand, and SLAP THE SHIT OUT OF THE “CORRECTING” representative!

  • C Peterson

    Mendez chose to address ideals that all his colleagues should share, regardless of their religious beliefs. Smith not only failed to recognize that (because he chose to read more into the speech than was actually there), but went on to insult some of his colleagues and to give a divisive speech.

    He is not representing his constituency fairly, and does not belong in public office.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Konopelli Woody NinetyNiner Konopak

      For these fookstick Xian loonies, the point of all their public prayer, and all their “religious” exercises, is to emphasize that “you” are not as “holy” as they are, not “saved,” so you’re inferior, and that therefore they may mistreat you, with a clear conscience, until you repent.

  • http://rickladd.com Rick Ladd

    What a shallow, cowardly, disrespectful lizard Steve Smith is. Apologies to reptiles everywhere.

  • Katwise

    Sometimes, well actually frequently, I wonder if our public officials have read the U.S. Constitution.

    • Miss_Beara

      They read the parts they like, much like the bible.

      • Katwise

        Of course! Hadn’t thought of that.

  • Anonimist

    Perhaps in the interest of “repentance”, at their next meeting Mendez could offer a separate humanist invocation in response to every Christian invocation the body has ever held?

  • Rain

    “for repentance of yesterday,”

    Repentance for what? Only one guy gave a godless invocation. God can’t keep track of who is the good guys and the bad guys? Or maybe the whole assembly collectively gets the pretend “cootie bugs” if only one guy steps out of line. (Yeah I know Smith is only demagoguing and he knew it would get him some free publicity.)

  • Mario Strada

    Shameful. I don’t live in Arizona, but anyone who does, especially in this fucking Moron’s district should let his office know that what he is doing is disrespectful on several levels.

    Second, someone should be the plaintiff in a lawsuit that leverage the fact that these fucking prayers these morons always want to recite before a session or before they take a shit are exclusively Christian and they allow the token “other” religion as long as it is no threat to their own.
    I know they allowed the native prayers because they have such a sense of superiority toward their religion that they really don’t feel like it even counts.

    But a godless prayer? That hurts them because more than a few people will see them for who they really are: poseurs that use their religion like a sledgehammer to keep everyone in check and to make themselves look good in front of their constituency.

    I mean, who the fuck needs to describe oneself as “prayerful”. Is that even a word? Yes, I know that guy actually tried to help, but in order to do so he had to preface his help as coming from an even holier place than the other guy.

    Fuck all that. I am sick of these slick operators. Send them all to Iran for a summer and make them deal with a real theocracy. See how they like it when they are not in charge.

    All the “Fuck” and “Shit” and such are intentional and necessary for my mental health. I have a doctor’s not on file that I will provide upon request. Asshole.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    What a fucking douchenozzle.

    One more example of why Christianity needs to be eradicated…

  • rg57

    ” It’s all about paying homage to the Christian majority’s God.”

    The first prayer that day was about that, and most of the prayers every other day were about that (or at least could plausibly claim to be).

    The second prayer was about explicitly excluding non-Christians, and in particular non-theists. It was not really a prayer at all, but an act solely to separate, shame, and oppress.

    (I speak not about the content, but the existence of the prayers).

  • DougI

    It didn’t take long for the Christian bigots to come out…as predicted. Fundies are so predictable.

  • Ajax Blackburn

    ‘not about tradition’… “It’s all about paying homage to the Christian majority’s God.”
    I’m
    not sure it’s so much genuine homage than it is politicized
    superstitious fear. If there aren’t 6 prayers a week than a hurricane
    will hit or some other disaster. The god is secondary where Steve Smith
    (if that’s his real name :-) and his conceit are primary. Whether it’s
    the primaries or not.

  • hailey

    Prayer shouldn’t even be a part of the official agenda of our representatives. And while we’re at it, we taxpayers shouldn’t be funding their “need” of chaplains and chaplain assistants. That nonsense costs us hundreds of thousands every year.

    • Gus Snarp

      It’s a tiny amount of money, but it all goes to waste and just for the symbolism ought to be done away with. I’m sure they can all find a congregation nearby to attend, this isn’t 1789 where they’re all days and weeks of travel from home and locked up together in the meeting hall.

  • A3Kr0n

    Rep. Steve Smith is a snotty, immature baby.

  • Gus Snarp

    Oh the horror! No one prayed to my God before this meeting! I can’t go on with my job!

    Here’s an idea, how about you just quietly say a prayer to yourself there in your seat. No one comes to my office and gathers the staff together to start the day with a prayer, and I don’t even work in government. I’m sure the Christians among my coworkers are perfectly content to pray to themselves quietly at their desks if they feel the need (which I doubt many do). Do you start the day in your offices with a group prayer when you’re not in the house chamber? What, you don’t? So this is just about making a public display of your Christianity, you hypocrite?

    Why is it that these people feel the need to do something in schools and government meetings that very few people do in their daily work lives in the real world?

  • Carpinions

    He should take that American flag lapel pin off the next time he feels license to flaunt the principles it stands for.

    This is de rigeur religiobot elitism. I think it’s beyond worth pointing out here that freedom of speech is a form of liberty that has been fought for, won, and spread by people for other people, and is not nor has ever been the blessing of a god, especially not the Abrahamic one. Little left to explain, then, when someone of the godly persuasion can be seen castigating someone not of that tradition for using their speech. They flip out every time someone who is not Christian gives one of these pre-proceedings prayers or invocations. They did it at the federal level a while back when a Hindu person gave a prayer, they’ll of course do it any time an atheist takes the mic. I would point out though, that the one instance I can think of where a non-Christian gave a prayer the religiobot conservatives didn’t take immediate and sweeping issue with – indeed they approved of it – was when a Moonie offered one in the halls of the US Congress. I guess when the megalomaniacal, womanizing, sex offending extant messiah of a very recently invented religion slathers the GOP with millions in contributions, well that’s just a bit different. Money talks, right?

  • toth

    I know personal attacks aren’t cool and all, but is it just me, or is there something really weird about that picture of Smith? He looks like a Picasso painting, one of his eyes looks like it’s at the wrong angle.

    • baal

      I agree that the image of Mr. Smith looks edited enough to fall into the uncanny valley.

    • dwasifar karalahishipoor

      Actually I think the picture just looks like he cares because we do:

  • Observing U

    I’d like to offer a prayer to all the deities to apologize for the Republican disease that is plaguing our world. Dear Deities, sorry that Republicans ignore your basic commandments to love one another and to help the poor and instead use cherry-picked verses to persecute, destroy and leave the poor to die in the streets of hunger, thirst, and treatable diseases all to protect and worship the greedy who have not earned that wealth through the sweat of their brow. Please know, Deities, that not all people are like those soulless bastards that make up the Republican Party these days.

    “Let them die!”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yva0VSN1_T4

    “Tea Party mocks and scorns sufferer of Parkinson’s Disease”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ik4f1dRbP8

    Tea Party Goddess of the Market and inspiration of the Church of Satan, Ayn Rand called Altruism (the philosophy of Christianity and other religions) “evil”…
    “Christianity is the best kindergarten of Communism possible.”
    http://www.faithinpubliclife.org/blog/paul_ryan_and_ayn_rand_a_love/

    Don’t fall for the devil’s trick. Republicanism, Conservatism, Libertarianism, Objectivism, all are rooted in the dark dank pit of Satan’s cold black heart.

    “Crypto-Satanism”
    Anton LaVey “I give people Ayn Rand with Trappings”
    http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/5/4/9476/33834/

  • JA

    Goes to show just how insecure some Christians are about their faith.

  • Croquet_Player

    I have contacted American Atheists and the Secular Coalition for America with the request that we organize support for his opponent in the next election. Vote the jerk out!

  • MahsaKaerra .

    We have similar rubbish in England’s local and regional councils.
    Someone suggests not praying to the christian god, and by the way some people react, you could be forgiven for thinking they were caught raping children.

  • Z54

    Perhaps Representative Smith should go back and read Matthew 6:5!