Atheist State Lawmaker Banned from Giving Opening Prayer at Arizona House Unless He Makes Reference to God

Rep. Juan Mendez speaking to the Secular Student Alliance at Arizona State University. Photo Credit: Arizona State Press, courtesy Mendez.
Rep. Juan Mendez speaking to the Secular Student Alliance at Arizona State University. Photo Credit: Arizona State Press, courtesy Mendez.

A new debate is brewing at the Arizona Capitol, where a state lawmaker claims he’s not allowed to give the opening prayer because he doesn’t believe in God.

It’s been a tradition at the Arizona House of Representatives for years; someone gives an official prayer to start every session.

Lawmakers have been taking turns giving the invocation or they invite somebody else to do it.

However, the policy on prayer took an unexpected turn last month and not everyone is happy about.

Rep. Juan Mendez. D-District 26, is a self-proclaimed atheist. He said he is no longer allowed to give the opening prayer if he doesn’t make reference to God or a higher being.

“Everyone is accustomed to giving a prayer down here every day; they want me to be included, and I want to be included,” Mendez said. “Apparently they don’t like what I am saying.”

According to a memo sent out recently by House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, R-District 13, House rules require the day start with a prayer that specifically refers to a higher power.

The memo states:

“Prayer, as commonly understood and in the long honored tradition of the Arizona House of Representatives, is a solemn request for guidance and help from God.”

Just last week the Phoenix City Council voted to ban all types of prayer before council meetings, after a satanic group signed up to give the invocation.┬áCity attorneys told council members they couldn’t exclude the group, so they adopted a moment of silence instead.

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SOURCE: KPHO/KTVK
Jason Barry