Atheist Lawmaker Snubbed During Invocation on “Secular Day” at Arizona Capitol February 24, 2020

Atheist Lawmaker Snubbed During Invocation on “Secular Day” at Arizona Capitol

The Secular Coalition for Arizona marked its 10-year anniversary today with a “Secular Day” at the State Capitol. Nearly 100 people gathered to receive advocacy training, listen to a speaker, meet with legislators, and listen to State Sen. Juan Mendez offer a secular invocation.

At least that was the plan.

That invocation would have had a lot of symbolic value since previous attempts have always hit some kind of snag.

In 2013, for example, Mendez delivered one in the State House, but the following day, a Christian colleague delivered a second religious invocation to make up for his godless one. When he tried to give another invocation in 2016, Majority Leader Steve Montenegro blocked him from doing so on the grounds that all invocations had to be made to a “higher power.” Days later, when Mendez gave his invocation anyway, a minister was on standby to deliver a “real” one.

The hazing continued when State Rep. Athena Salman, also an atheist, gave an invocation in 2017. She was berated by Republicans right after she was finished.

So you can understand why the Secular Coalition for Arizona was excited to hear Mendez speak this morning.

But instead of that happening, Senate President Karen Fann announced that State Sen. J.D. Mesnard would be giving the invocation instead.

Who is Mesnard? The same guy who, in 2017, said Salman’s invocation was out of order. It wasn’t just a snub. It was a slap in the face.

Only after he spoke did Fann announce she made a “mistake.”

If that was a “mistake,” then you have to wonder why Mesnard happened to have an invocation ready to go…

Mendez was eventually allowed to speak. He gave his invocation as a “point of privilege” while saying he wouldn’t be “petty” and make an issue of it. But he very well could have.

There’s no video of his speech just yet, but here’s the silver lining: For the first time in recent years, that secular invocation wasn’t met with any sort of resistance. There were no boos. There was no “offsetting” Christian invocation. There was no snide comments afterwards. There was only the “mistake” beforehand… that is, if you believe it really was an accident.

But suppose we give them the benefit of the doubt (which they don’t deserve). That ought to be the start of a new tradition in which atheists are allowed to participate in government without having to deal with Christianity-fueled backlash whenever they open the session with words of wisdom instead of shout-outs to God.

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