Atheists Condemn Arizona State Representative’s Prayer ‘Do-Over’ After Secular Invocation

Cranford, NJ—American Atheists announced Friday that it has demanded an apology on behalf of all non-Christians for disparaging remarks made by Arizona state Representative Steve Smith on Wednesday. Smith’s remarks were in response to the secular invocation offered by state Representative Juan Mendez on Tuesday in the state House of Representatives.

Smith, a conservative Christian, opened Wednesday’s House session with not one, but two prayers, the second in “repentance” of the secular invocation offered the day before by Mendez. Smith invited the other lawmakers present to join him; about half of the sixty did. Smith said, “When there is at time set aside to pray …, if you are a nonbeliever, don’t ask for time to pray.”

“Opening the legislative sessions with prayer is disenfranchising to anyone who is not Christian as demonstrated by Representative Mendez’ attempt to balance this outdated practice with a secular alternative,” said President David Silverman. “But for Representative Smith to say that a fellow lawmaker’s secular choice requires ‘repentance’ is reprehensible. His statement excluding nonbelievers is one of the most un-American remarks I have ever heard from a public servant and is a perfect example of why there should not be any prayer sponsored by government. Representative Smith should be ashamed. He owes Representative Mendez an apology. He owes non-Christians an apology. He owes the American people an apology.”

“For Smith to suggest that Mendez’s expression of Humanist beliefs requires our government to pray for repentance is really awful and insulting. I’m incredibly disappointed,” said Seráh Blain, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition of Arizona.

“State Representative Steve Smith embarrassed himself … [he] demonstrated how, unfortunately, religious belief can be used as a basis for exclusion and hatred. Our Constitution guarantees equal protection and rights to all people, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs. Representative Smith owes Representative Mendez, and the citizens of our state, an apology for his inappropriate remarks,” said Lawrence Krauss, prominent theoretical physicist, atheist, and resident of Arizona.

State Representative Juan Mendez made headlines on Tuesday for using his turn in the opening prayer rotation to publicly announce that he is an atheist and to read a Carl Sagan quotation instead of a traditional prayer.


CORRECTION 5-24-13 at 5:13 PM EDT: Steve Smith is an Arizona state Representative, not a state Senator. He has previously served as an Arizona state Senator.


Text of the letter sent to Smith:

Dear State Representative Smith:

On behalf of atheists, nontheists, religious minorities, and non-Christians nationwide, we formally ask you to apologize to state Representative Mendez, to us, and to the American people for your disparaging remarks made on Wednesday, May 22 during the opening of the Arizona Senate session.

Your invitation of a second daily prayer in “repentance” for the secular invocation offered by Representative Mendez on Tuesday was insulting and degrading to him and to all nonreligious Arizonians as well as all non-Christian Arizonians.

America is a diverse country with many people who practice many religions and no religion and this is true for Arizona and your senate district. In fact, there are about 1.3 million atheists in Arizona. Additionally, in the Arizona legislature, there are members who are not Christian and Christians who do not practice Christianity the same way you do. To recognize these differences does not denigrate America but celebrates its diversity.

There is no requirement to be a Christian in order to be a patriot. Your statement that in order to love this country one must be a Christian is unpatriotic, deeply troubling, and counter to the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Again, we ask that you apologize to Representative Mendez, to your constituents, to the people of Arizona, and most especially, to all non-Christians—not for being a Christian nor for wanting to pray, but for using your position as an elected official to denounce another person’s life view as wrong and in need of correction.

Sincerely yours,

American Atheists

David Silverman, President
Amanda Knief, Managing Director
Dave Muscato, Public Relations Director
Nick Fish, Development Director
Todd Jones, Director of Operations
Ken Loukinen, Director of Regional Operations
Greg Lammers, National Affiliates Director
Don Lacey, Arizona State Director
Dennis Horvitz, Atheist Viewpoint Co-Host
Serah Blain, Executive Director, Secular Coalition of Arizona

  • Nick Boxwell


    • Maureen Nolan

      I second your thanks! It is refreshing to read something that is proactive in fighting for atheists’ rights, too!

      • jrogers

        This country was founded on Judeo-Christian values and even with all the contradictions to these values, like slayvery, we survived. World War II could not have been won without intervention from above and a concentrated, unified effort of all Americans, dedicated to these values. America helped rebuild much of the destruction of World War II, in Japan, Europe and other places. We embraced a spirit of helping less fortunate nations, even today. Now you want replace Capitalism, (with all of its inherent faults like Greed) with a state controled solcialism. You lose freedom for security-and in the end lose both. Allow a religion that mandates extermination of the infidel (all non-Muslim believers) to enjoy that freedom that was provided by the founding fathers. So the result is chaos. The chaos leads to violence and destruction and man, in his humanity, cannot solve the problem. Look around your living the experience daily. Man will not be allowed to destroy this world. It is not his destroy. Man cannot even destroy all his fellow man, there will be a day of final judgement.

        • Reality

          Back in the hole with you, Troll!

        • Herbivore

          Yes. To preserve true Liberty in a good country it needs the support of both the countrymen and women.

          “The obvious definition of a monarchy seems to be that of a state, in which a single person, by whatsoever name he may be distinguished, is entrusted with the execution of the laws, the management of the revenue, and the command of the army. But unless public liberty is protected by intrepid and vigilant guardians, the authority of so formidable a magistrate will soon degenerate into despotism. The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people. A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince.”
          Edward Gibbon

          “1776, the year Gibbon’s great work on the decline of the Roman Empire was first published, was also the year in which Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations as well as the year in which the American Declaration of Independence was signed, thus beginning the revolution and war against Great Britain.”

        • – atheism does not equal socialism
          -man most definitely could destroy all man. it’s scary that you doubt that

        • Chris

          You have provided nothing to article and should be ashamed of your actions.

        • Silly


        • Josh

          “This country was founded on Judeo-Christian values”

          Stop, right there. Nothing you say after that even matters when you believe that the USA was founded on the values of a religion which the founding fathers did not even adhere to.

          The USA was founded to be a nation free of religious persecution and interference within the government. Our founding fathers were primarily Deists or Unitarians.

        • LEP

          What the ….?

        • Robert


        • mrwiseguy

          Not all atheists are socialists. There are a large number of conservative atheists…I being one of them.

        • your mom

          You sound like a truly terrible person and I’m hoping you are just a troll. I find it very disheartening that you claim WWII was won by your God and not by say…our own veterans that risked everything to give you the freedoms you enjoy today. You want to take all the credit away from human beings that were kind and generous on their own and give it to your God? You even state that we as people are not allowed to have ownership of ourselves. And then you go on to state that your God must be one that is non-Muslim! Because clearly if people believe in the Muslim God, that’s not the right one and therefore their beliefs do not count. I am not sure whether to laugh or cry. SMH, please for the sake of humanity, go away. Seek therapy.

        • Brad

          You stated that our government was founded on Judeo-Christian values. You have a burden for proof for all your statements with documents and bibliographies from every member at the signing of the constitution. I can provide examples of diests and men who would in these days be labeled agnostic like Thomas Jefferson, or atheist like John Locke. In the Bible Jesus statements on the wealthy and actions at the Temple are more closely aligned with Communism than even atheists are. Can you provide documents that every atheists supports complete Socialism?

  • Dennis Moore

    In my late 50s now…..and was once…..a member of the Christian CULT myself. Saved by science, reason, & common sense………I was eventually able to ‘shake the bonds’ of my slavery to ‘religion’. It’s a mental illness….a disease that holds the entire planet back from progressing.

    • Maureen Nolan

      Dennis, So well said. I am copying your comment. Thank you so much!

    • ken

      I am so glad you are free from religion,I am escape a number of years ago when I truly read the bible which made me an atheist.

    • jrogers

      Hey folks, the time is coming when the Creator will come and “clean house.” All you ex-believers, you saw the light and turned back to the darkness. When the Apocalypse occurs, as it will, where will you turn? It won’t be the flood, like with Noah, think Sodom and Gomorrha. Fire and lots of it. We are not the owners of this world, we”re not even the owners of ourselves, it was a “gift” from God so he could fellowship with his creation. So you can turn your back, but you won’t be able to destroy this world. Christ is returning as the lion and not the lamb. So stayed tuned and you won’t need a TV to witness this, you shall see up close and personal.

      • bjackson

        Will I get the news on my IPad? Or a scroll?

      • Matt

        Your imaginary sky wizard sounds very angry. Perhaps you should choose another one who isn’t such a jealous, infantile, homophobic, genocidal maniac.

      • David

        Don’t expect anyone to ever take you seriously in life if you say things like this. In the real world, people will roll their eyes at you and decide you’ve lost most of your credibility.

      • LEP

        Provide proof – facts & supporting data – otherwise, shut it!
        BTW – the bible does not count.
        Thank you , have a nice day.

      • Stephen

        Har-Dee-Har. I love all the fire and brimstone stuff. As usual the religious resort to a fear campaign to convince you to believe. Just like all other control oriented institutions. It seem ‘jrogers’ is just trolling this board to pump out the standard rhetoric. Blah, blah, blah. If you think mankind can’t destroy this earth, then you’re delusional. Oh I forgot, you’ve established that.

      • Shawn Payne

        Thank you so much for caring. Being warned about the apocalypse by a Christian is such a delightful surprise. I certainly hope that you gain some satisfaction in what is obviously a fruitless effort. I am new here, but from what I have read so far, the people posting on this site are mostly rational thinkers….so good luck with your message of woe. I doubt it will be taken seriously.

    • Cal Slonecker

      I was also once a christian as i’m sure most atheist were. But it wasn’t so much the belief that was holding me back for none of it ever made any sense to me, but it was mostly the fear of reprisal of those around for claiming to be atheist. It has taken many years for myself to be as outspoken about being an atheist as i am today. Now i try to find “The Atheist’s in Hiding” and help them to stand up strong.

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  • ken

    Awesome comments Dave.

  • Excellent letter. Glad there was an official response to Steve Smith. What are the odds that he will apologize? Probably about the same as whether there’s a god, I’d bet…

    • He won’t apologize–but what’s important about this whole event, including Johnny Mendez’s invocation, Smith’s response, and the media attention, is that we’re furthering the public dialogue around challenging Christian privilege, as well as challenging the idea that atheists don’t believe in anything.

      The more positive response we’re able to muster around Rep Mendez coming out as nontheistic, the greater the likelihood other elected officials will follow suit.

      I’m so grateful to American Atheists and the national movement as a whole for helping Secular Coalition for Arizona to keep the spotlight on religion in politics and the bigotry and harm it evokes.

  • Mark

    Great letter. Amazing how the guy can’t see his own double standard, which is unfortunately, pretty common.

  • AT


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  • andy

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