An Atheist Invocation in the Arizona House Led to a Massive Overreaction from Christian Politicians

Earlier today, a secular invocation in the Arizona State House was rebuked and challenged because it didn’t reference a Higher Power.

It was delivered by openly atheist State Rep. Juan Mendez. He made headlines in 2013 when he delivered the first of two invocations honoring his Secular Humanism. (One of his religious colleagues gave a second Christian invocation the following day. As if God would use it to offset the secular invocation in some sort of weird karmic rebalancing.)

Mendez has also encouraged one colleague to do the same and more recently been a champion of other local atheist candidates.


In January, Mendez signed up to give another invocation… but House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro blocked him from giving the speech, citing an unofficial rule that all invocations had to be made to a Higher Power.

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.

That’s bullshit, of course. An invocation can be given to whomever you want. The Supreme Court ruled in Greece v. Galloway that atheist invocations were legal in government settings alongside religious ones.

But Montenegro chose to replace Mendez with a minister “who made repeated references to the Almighty as well as Jesus Christ.”

Mendez was able to deliver his prepared invocation, but only during a time reserved for personal comments — in other words, after the invocation. It’s unequal treatment, no matter how you slice it.

That’s why today’s invocation was worth watching. Mendez was delivering it, and it was during the regular time slot. Here’s what he said:

We are here today, as everyday, to represent our pluralistic society — of which I am grateful to again be included in.

To represent that beauty of our multi-cultural state that reflects our diversity of color, of heritage, of religion and lack thereof.

Spanning across communities both urban and rural; we are the same. Yearning to better our lives. Looking to better the lives of others.

Let us embrace those that want to help our society grow. Let us accept each other for our differences. Let us work to help those we represent flourish.

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

Take these words to heart as we move this great state of Arizona forward: It is our responsibility to honor the Constitution and the secular equality it brings.

And so shall it be…

Now that’s a secular invocation for you. It’s beautiful, sentimental, inclusive, and not offensive in the least.

So how did that go?

The video’s not yet available online, but Seráh Blain was there and told me what happened:

Immediately after Mendez gave it, House Majority leader Montenegro rose for a point of order saying that the rule calling for the House to open with a prayer was not fulfilled. Speaker of the House [Andy] Tobin said the point was well taken and called on a minister waiting in the wings to give a prayer to our heavenly father. Representative [Rusty] Bowers took a point of personal privilege to accuse Mendez of impugning people who pray.

Now we’re listening to member after member tell how offended they are that Mendez would disrespect the time set aside for prayer.

… So they did the same damn thing as before. They whitewashed his invocation with a “proper” Christian one, before trashing Mendez for what they assume is Christian Persecution.

If Mendez’s prayer is considered offensive, then what do you call all the other invocations alluding to God, suggesting that those who don’t believe in Him are destined for an eternity in a lake of fire?

No minister needed to offer a replacement for what Mendez said. It’s appalling that anyone would dare to treat his speech as less welcome than what any minister says. This is the very problem that the Supreme Court was trying to prevent.

More updates coming soon.

(Portions of this article were published earlier)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.