Secular community disrespected by Arizona House of Representatives

The secular community is hit by exclusion, and once again it is unconstitutional.

Millions worldwide gather in churches to recognize their Christian faith on Ash Wednesday, as it is a time to reflect on one's individual shortcomings. I was one of those individuals who sat inside a beautiful cathedral in Arizona for Catholic Mass. But as I reflected on something that happened this past week, I became increasingly unsettled by the sheer lack of respect for the secular community.

State Representative Juan Mendez (D-Tempe), attempted to give the invocation before the House of Representatives on Monday, but was denied. That wasn’t what was upsetting, however. What was upsetting was the memo that lined out clear discrimination against Mendez and the secular community which was released after Mendez made the request to lead the invocation. Republican Majority Leader, Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park) wrote in this memo that prayer is reserved for “guidance and help from God.” It's important to note that prayer is required before business commences. Mendez made the request because the Secular Coalition of Arizona had planned on coming to the State Capitol that day.

This is not the first time that Mendez has been subject to persecution. In 2013, Mendez gave an invocation asking his peers to “not bow (their) heads,” but instead to “look around the room … and share together this extraordinary experience of being alive …” The following day, Rep. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa) blasted Mendez and declared that the House of Representatives should “ask for repentance of yesterday,” referring to Mendez’s prayer.

As a Christian, I am frustrated by the stigma associated with the secular community. I am bothered that we ignore an amendment in our constitution that created the separation of church and state. I am frustrated with being misrepresented by dogmatic religious principles in a legislature that needs to be focused on how to spend surplus money, not argue like children over who gets to lead prayer.

Yet, here I am today, writing about it, and here we are wasting our time discussing this subject. I respect people that fight for smaller issues, but what I am saying is this is not an issue at all. The Supreme Court and the Constitution have already laid this issue to rest. I do not think that the Republican House leadership are bad people, in fact I respect them a great deal, but I do believe they are completely wrong on this issue.

The last argument that lingers is whether or not invocations should be allowed. As a Christian, I don’t really care if we have prayer or not, but the bottom line is either everyone can participate or no one can. For our legislators to play with the rules is not only disrespectful to the entire secular community, but it is also unconstitutional.

Furthermore, the Secular Coalition of Arizona acted pragmatically and respectfully in a response letter written to the House Speaker. While the SCA does not support invocations, they wrote that if they are required, they ask they be "inclusive for all Arizonans." I must admit, I was impressed by the level of composure and civility the letter maintained, in the face of clear discrimination.

For me, my faith is not based on the prayer of someone else, but the belief within my heart. I don't need to make an extravagant prayer in front of people to prove anything — and even if I do, I show it by how I treat people. To my friends in the secular community: Please accept my humble apology. Today I am upset, and I believe God is, too.

Related Links:

SB 1062 offers warped view of religious freedom

Generation Y: Shedding our religion

Reach the columnist at or follow @jimsthebeast on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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