Members of the Arizona legislature displeased with atheist’s prayer.

Members of the Arizona legislature displeased with atheist’s prayer. May 23, 2013

The other day Arizona state congressman Juan Mendez, an atheist, was slated to give the opening prayer.  He quoted Carl Sagan and gave a perfectly beautiful secular comment.  This, of course, infuriated some theists.

Republican Rep. Steve Smith on Wednesday said the prayer offered by Democratic Rep. Juan Mendez of Tempe at the beginning of the previous day’s floor session wasn’t a prayer at all. So he asked other members to join him in a second daily prayer in “repentance,” and about half the 60-member body did so. Both the Arizona House and Senate begin their sessions with a prayer and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

It’s kind of like how they look at marriage equality: people don’t want to get married the way *I* want to get married and that just won’t do.  Except now it’s that the atheist didn’t pray the way Steve Smith would pray, and so we need a do over.

“When there’s a time set aside to pray and to pledge, if you are a non-believer, don’t ask for time to pray,” said Smith, of Maricopa. “If you don’t love this nation and want to pledge to it, don’t say I want to lead this body in the pledge, and stand up there and say, `you know what, instead of pledging, I love England’ and (sit) down.

Sorry chum, it’s not the obligation of every member of the legislature to pledge allegiance to god.  They signed up to serve America, not an invisible guy who can’t be bothered to show up, so spare us the comparison suggesting that someone’s allegiance isn’t to the United States if they don’t verbally kiss god’s feet to your satisfaction.  If you want prayer time, it must be available to everybody (see the first amendment of the document you’re sworn to uphold).  If you don’t like that people who don’t think like you are allowed to use that time then introduce a measure getting rid of prayer during legislative sessions altogether.

Thankfully, one of the Republicans actually got it right.

Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Andy Biggs filed a legal brief agreeing with the town’s position.

On Wednesday, Tobin said he had no problem with Mendez’s prayer.

“From my perspective I didn’t see an issue with Mr. Mendez yesterday,” said Tobin, R-Paulden. “I can appreciate what Mr. Smith was saying, but I think all members are responsible for their own prayerful lives and I think the demonstration that we take moments for prayer we all do collectively and in our own hearts.”

Bingo!  That’s the freedom of religion.  It’s not up to Steve Smith to say that the state should not approve of how someone else elects to pray.  I really wish that tomorrow Mendez would get up and say “I’m sorry, yesterday’s do-over prayer placed far too much responsibility on god and not enough praise on humanity, so I’m going to do a do-over today.”  The Christians would see it as an affront, but would likely not connect the dots.

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