FFRF, others support atheist legislator

Arizona GOP members say invocation didn’t invoke higher power

A group of faith and humanist leaders rallied to support Arizona atheist lawmaker Athena Salman after she was rebuked by Republican leaders over an invocation they didn’t think was religious enough.

“It doesn’t take an atheist to see this is fundamentally wrong,” Salman said, referring to Arizona House rules requiring prayers to invoke a “higher power.”

On April 20, about 60 people protested that decision with their demonstration outside the State Capitol.

“I am deeply disappointed with the government’s infantile treatment of the secular citizens of Arizona,” Salman said. “There is a higher power — it’s nature. The Arizona House of Representatives is the people’s house. Opening prayers in the House should represent Arizonans of every faith’s perspective. This includes the hundreds of thousands of Arizonans who, like myself, do not believe in a supernatural god, but do believe in the power of humanity to do good in the world.”

GOP state Rep. Mark Finchem objected to Salman’s invocation and gave his own invocation in Jesus’ name. House Majority Leader John Allen then reminded members House rules require that a prayer invoke a “higher power.”

FFRF backed Salman and sent out a statement to its members:

“The Arizona House of Representatives leadership has compounded its First Amendment violation of scheduling official governmental prayers by inflicting yet another injury — this time to free speech. Not only are legislators being told to pray, but now they are being told who to pray to (‘a higher power’).

“It should not be the business of the Arizona House of Representatives to pray on government time and dime, much less to dictate to whom other legislators should address invocations.

“Nonreligious individuals can invoke a higher power — the only ‘higher power’ any governmental official should invoke in an official capacity, the only ‘high power’ recognized by our secular Constitution. That higher power is ‘We, the People.'”

Arizona state Sen. Juan Mendez has helped lead the charge for nonreligious invocations since 2013. That’s when the then-state representative provoked outrage among Christian GOP members by quoting Carl Sagan during an invocation.

Last year, following the Legislature’s rule change spearheaded by Christian minister Steve Montenegro, then the House majority leader, ordered that another godless invocation by Mendez had to be followed immediately by a proper prayer from a reverend.

Freedom From Religion Foundation