Yesterday, an Arizona State Rep named Juan Mendez opened the Arizona House of Representatives afternoon session with a Godless, Secular invocation for the first time in state history.
Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you to take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.Mendez, a first-time Democratic State Rep from Tempe, Arizona, was likely not well-known for his Secular Humanism before, but found a way to honor this side of his life in a way that shows the unity that we share with our fellow Americans.
These types of religiously-based invocations during government business have been contentious issues within the secular community, who sees them as a violation of the basic Constitutional promise of separation between church and state. However, Mendez should be commended for taking the opportunity to turn this into a positive event, by delivering a positive message, and demonstrating that a middle ground can in fact be achieved.
This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my Secular Humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love…What Mendez did was likely not easy. While Mendez is most definitely not the only Atheist in US political office, very few are open and candid about it. This is no coincidence, as Atheists still rank as one of the most unelectable groups in America.
However, this trend is also starting to change. Mendez is following in the footsteps of Kyrsten Sinema in promoting secular government, who was sworn in as a US House Representative for Arizona using the Constitution instead of the Bible, and in addition, a former Democratic leader of the Arizona House took this opportunity to share the same Secular and Humanist values as Mendez.
Carl Sagan once wrote, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” There is, in the political process, much to bear. In this room, let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our Constitution, for our democracy — and let us root our policymaking process in these values that are relevant to all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or nonbelief. In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better Arizona.Mendez showed immense courage yesterday, and for answering the call for more outspoken Atheist and Secular leaders in American politics, I applaud him.
Video of the invocation is available here.
Mendez's official campaign website is here.
The Arizona community, Progressive community, and Atheist community, should all feel empowered by leaders like Juan Mendez.