On Tuesday, Arizona's District 26 Rep. Juan Mendez made national headlines for delivering a secular invocation at the beginning of the day's floor session.
Yesterday, District 11 Rep. Steve Smith, apparently, didn't appreciate that at all.
From the Associated Press:
Republican Rep. Steve Smith on Wednesday said the prayer offered by Democratic Rep. Juan Mendez of Tempe at the beginning of the previous day's floor session wasn't a prayer at all. So he asked other members to join him in a second daily prayer in "repentance," and about half the 60-member body did so. Both the Arizona House and Senate begin their sessions with a prayer and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
"When there's a time set aside to pray and to pledge, if you are a non-believer, don't ask for time to pray," said Smith, of Maricopa. "If you don't love this nation and want to pledge to it, don't say I want to lead this body in the pledge, and stand up there and say, 'you know what, instead of pledging, I love England' and (sit) down.
"That's not a pledge, and that wasn't a prayer, it's that simple," Smith said.
Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, who represents a northern Arizona district on the Navajo reservation, did take offense. She said Smith's criticism of another member's faith, or lack of it, was wrong.
"I want to remind the House and my colleagues and everybody here that several of us here are not Christianized. I'm a traditional Navajo, so I stand here every day and participate in prayers," even without personally embracing them, said Peshlakai, D-Cameron. "This is the United States, this is America, and we all represent different people ... and you need to respect that. Your God is no more powerful than my God. We all come from the same creator."
Considering that Smith was so offended by Mendez's non-prayer, it sure seems that Mendez must have said some horribly offensive things, right? Well, let's take a read for ourselves:
Most prayers in this room being with a request to bow your heads. I would ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all the men and women here, in this moment, sharing this extraordinary experience of being alive and dedicating ourselves to improving the lives of the people of our state.
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.
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 and for our democracy. And let us root our policy-making process in these values that are relevant to all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or non-belief. In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better Arizona.
How dare Mendez say such things about the Arizona Legislature! I'm pretty sure you can get removed from office for baldly-untrue claims, saying that members of the House have the capacity for reason and logic!
Smith's response was an overreaction of the highest order to what should be a non-issue in a country that enumerated one's right to freedom of religion — even if your religion happens to be a celebration of one's fellow man, rather than an omnipotent creator.
If you want to watch Mendez's invocation for yourself, see the video below, or head here: