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:
… 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.