May 2017 Prayergate & March for Science

President’s Message

Hello again, everyone! It’s time again for a quick review of what you may have missed. April, like March, was bustling. Gather around. I have some stories to tell about Prayergate 2017.

A Prayer that Was: Invocation at Tempe City Council

I’d like to start a bit out of chronological order to highlight a proud moment for our community. Kolby Granville of the Tempe City Council invited us to present an invocation on April 20 to kick off a council meeting focusing, in an uncannily well-timed fashion, on the topic of marijuana. Our very own and my predecessor, Richard Dewey, wrote and delivered a moving and thoughtful invocation. He makes me proud to call myself a Humanist. We stand and champion these values amidst today’s discourse. You can watch his invocation from Kolby’s YouTube channel. Thank you so much, Richard! Please join me and thank Richard when you see him next.

The Prayer that Wasn’t: Invocation at the AZ Capitol

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the kerfuffle at the Arizona House of Representatives on April 18. If you haven’t, please check out the “highlight” reel from the Secular Coalition of Arizona. They coined the hashtag #prayergate when a similar situation happened with Johnny Mendez in 2016.

What happened?

Prayergate 2017, the latest invocation-related event, was covered by several major outlets including the Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta. For those who want the short explanation: it was Athena Salman’s turn to offer a prayer, we were asked to write an invocation, our Program Director James Fuchs wrote a beautiful invocation intended to bring people together. However, after Athena who is an open atheist reads her invocation, Representative Finchem requests a point of personal privilege to have a do-over prayer. During his second prayer, Finchem invokes his heavenly father to “forgive us for our arrogance” for not recognizing his god because (surprise) not everybody in Arizona subscribes to Rep. Finchem’s brand of Christianity. He continues by asking his god to “forgive us for those things that we do which ~heavy sigh~ are dilutive to the world which you have blessed us with.” His prayer implies that Athena’s Humanist invocation somehow made the world a less good place, disparaging her, her invocation, and her beliefs. Finally, Athena asks if she did not give a prayer and the Speaker of the House, Mesnard, indicated that she violated rule 7.2. and failed to deliver a prayer.

Judge for yourself

All caught up? Marvelous. You can watch the video below, though the audio levels are a tad low. However, the text is included in James Fuch’s section below.

I believe I speak for many of my fellow Humanists, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, non-religious, and many of our religious brothers and sisters when I express extreme disappointment and anger at our legislators picking religious winners and losers while conducting official state business on our tax-funded dollar. Mr. Finchem owes Athena, all those who lack belief in gods, and all Arizona citizens an apology for his disgraceful behavior. He and the speaker Mesnard have marginalized an entire swath of citizens and effectively disenfranchised a representative of those constituents from fully participating in the legislative process. The purpose of government is to serve the people—all people—not just those who share the beliefs of the majority.

Can Legislators decide what is and is not a prayer?

In effect, the legislature has decided that they can dictate how people pray and what constitutes a “real” prayer. They’ve incorporated an activity in the democratic process and defined the rules of participation so narrowly as to exclude those with whom they disagree. This is not democracy. This is not in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Our responses

Headshot of James Avery

James Avery Fuchs, Program Director of HSGP

Our very own Program Director and author of the invocation, James Fuchs, has issued a heart-warming statement of appreciation. If you would, please show him your love and support!

We at the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix have issued a statement in a press release to offer our support for the right for Athena to give her invocation and to pray in a manner of her choosing. Our many allies of the interfaith movement came, in person, to display their solidarity with Athena’s and, vicariously, all of our first amendment rights. My heart swells with love and gratitude from the outpouring of support from believers and non-believers alike. Thank you to everyone who supported Athena and all of us when it really matters.

My statement

Additionally, I have issued public statements regarding the event expressing our opinions on the matter. Here is my impassioned statement of support:

The Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix is a small but active and loving community in Mesa. Our organization is dedicated to learning, exploration, upholding the virtues of freedom, and providing service to the surrounding communities.

First, we would like to thank members of the faith community who came to stand with us. Thank you for hearing our concerns about what happened on Tuesday, April 18 in the Arizona House of Representatives. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you for being a good neighbor and supporting us in our time of need. You are the example of goodness that today’s polarized climate desperately needs. I would also like to thank those representatives that stood up in defense of religious freedom. Representatives Gonzales and Benally, thank you.

In the invocation written by our Program Director, James Fuchs, James invokes the shared goodness of humanity to band together, to put aside our petty differences and truly work to make Arizona a better place in which to live and work. He calls for justice. He calls for unity. He calls upon the assembly to do good.

However, our legislature clearly did not hear this call. Their “hearts have become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.” They took something beautiful—a call to love their neighbors—and they polluted it so that they could exclude those who are different. In an outrageous display of abuse of power, they held a second invocation, as though the first was unworthy or didn’t matter or should be silenced. Let’s think about this. They invoked God to ask for forgiveness for Athena’s invocation, an invocation intended to inspire unity and a desire to achieve shared prosperity for all citizens among our elected officials. Our legislature works for us, for all citizens of this great state. They are not to pick winners and losers with respect to the beliefs and faiths of others.

Those without belief in God or gods are honest and hardworking citizens, too. Our lawmakers have the duty to uphold the Constitution: to defend the rights of everybody, not just those with similar beliefs. What happened Tuesday sets a dangerous precedent. It sends the message that those who are different are not welcome here. It sends the message that they get to decide who can participate in the democratic process. It is the duty of all citizens to defend the rights of others, even those in the minority.

This time, they came for us. If they can get away with marginalizing those with a peaceful and loving invocation, then who is next? Will they determine which is the right god? Will they determine which is the right way to pray? Is it now the job of our legislators to tell you how to worship properly and if you don’t you should not try to become a public servant? No. No this is not right. If you wish to defend your sovereign rights to pray and worship as you see fit, then we invite you to join us and send a message to your representatives today to keep the government out of religion. This time they came for us. Next time, they may come for you. Don’t let them tell you that the way you pray is wrong or unworthy of inclusion.

Anita’s fiery statement

Our Membership Director, Anita Romanowski, wrote this fiery declaration.

The frigid reception that was given to Athena Salmon’s invocation on Tuesday was a rude, disrespectful and immoral display directed at a person of solid moral standing.

The intense desire for separation of church and state is not an attempt to attack or eradicate religion, but a plea to respect all people of all beliefs and non-beliefs, and their basic human rights.

Did any of the legislators even listen to the words that were spoken and truly “hear” them? These were words that could have been directed to anyone’s deity of choice if so desired.
I am deeply disappointed with the government’s level of infantile treatment of the secular citizens of Arizona.

There is a higher power, it’s called nature and we are all part of it.

Anita Romanowski

Marching for Science at the Phoenix City Hall

March for Science photo of our banner and representatives

(left to right) Zelda contemplates her next chant while Anita shares her favorite scientists, Chris live-streams the march while Carol, Alex, and Nicole carry the Humanist Banner into the fray.

While our struggles for equality and fairness are important, we also took to the streets to stand for reason and rationality. We marched for methodological naturalism. We marched for controls. We marched for double-blinds. We marched for reproducibility. We marched for science! Check out my Facebook live stream of the event as we march and I lead the crowd in a brainy chant!

The Arizona Republic reports that organizers estimated a crowd size of about 8,000. The event started with speeches and impassioned pleas to support scientific endeavors and conclusions that include those from all backgrounds, genders, and ethnicities. We marched and chanted proudly. Let’s hope that our elected officials were listening.

We need you!

Here comes the rain, again

As you know, our roof is still in sorry shape. We’re about to contract with a local roofer to make the necessary repairs before Monsoon Season here in Phoenix. Through your generous donations, the roof repair is well on it’s way to being fully funded this year! However, we still need a bit more to completely fund this project. Please consider making a donation today to keep our facility in top shape to better serve you and our guests. Thank you!

Calling Costco Shoppers!

As you may know, Ann Marie Eisentraut, our long-time Property Director, friend, and champion of making sure that our events are well-stocked with food, will be moving to Canada at the end of this month. Ann Marie, in addition to being Superwoman in her spare time, performed the necessary task of purchasing food and snacks for our meetings and activities. Without someone to take her place, we will not be able to continue our tradition of serving breakfast.

Don’t let this happen! If you have a CostCo membership or membership to a similar bulk grocery store and would be able to purchase and deliver food once a month that we need to keep this tradition alive, please contact me right now. We have a list of items that we need for each meeting. Keep your receipts and HSGP will fully reimburse you for the purchases you make for our organization. In addition to helping keep this time-honored tradition alive, you get bragging rights and recognition at each meeting (if so desired).

Assistant Breakfast Helper Needed

Speaking of rain: when it rains, it pours. Our breakfast co-pilot, Pete is going to be out of town for the month of May and early June. Steve, our other food preparation volunteer, is pretty awesome but he cannot prepare breakfast alone. The primary duties are helping Steve prepare, portion, and place the prepared food on our buffet table before each Sunday Speaker meeting. There are only 3 such meetings until Pete returns, but many hands can make light work. Again, this is a very important position for keeping our breakfast tradition alive. Please contact me right now if you can help out! We need a helper for our next meeting on May 7. That’s next weekend! Again, you will be recognized before each meeting and will have the satisfaction helping kickstart the days of your fellow Humanists.

See you next time

That’s it! Please consider volunteering to help with food and breakfast. We really need your help.

If you missed the excitement of our meetings and events this month, be sure to check out our next event on Meetup or Facebook to stay up-to-date on all our activities!

Thank you and be well! Remember to “Be the reason someone smiles. Be the reason someone feels loved and believes in the goodness in people.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

Message from the Membership Director

“Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”  Humanist Manifesto III  Anita Romanowski

Part of my personal interpretation of Humanism is that we as humans have an obligation to leave the world a better place than it was before we entered it.  As a Humanist organization, one goal of HSGP should be to recycle, assist marginalized people and respect the earth, nature and the rights of others.  A great vision for HSGP would be to become much more active in contributing to reach these goals.  To this end this is what we are currently doing:

  1. Kathy & Bruce Pettycrew regularly donate to Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development.  Check out their Wish List and consider donating items that they need.
  2. I’ve been holding a monthly workshop making sleeping mats out of plastic grocery bags.  These mats are being given out to local homeless people.
  3. Recently, I contacted Paz de Cristo asking if they can use the sleeping mats that we’ve been making (see announcement below).  They were delighted to know that we’re doing this.  I asked what else they can use.  They need clean (preferably new) underwear for both men and women for when they have shower days.  We have also been cutting bolts of fleece into blankets to distribute to the homeless.  I’d welcome donations of bolts of fleece or cash donations so we can buy bolts of fleece; JoAnn’s sometimes has them on sale.  I delivered the mats and blankets to Paz on 4/26.  They were very happy to receive them.

These projects are ongoing.  Whatever you can do to help will always be greatly appreciated.

Reminder from last month

HSGP’s Board of Directors is currently experiencing a bit of a crisis situation.  At the end of 2016, we had several people leave the board of directors.  In order for our community center to run smoothly, efficiently and safely, we need motivated people to step up and become actively involved with organizational functioning.  I encourage all who attend our Sunday meetings to remain to attend our monthly board meetings.   Board meetings are held after the second regular Sunday meeting of each month, except December. You can direct questions or comments to Chris Wojno at president@hsgp.org.

Continuing Sleeping Mats Workshop

This workshop is held on the second Saturday of every month, except December.  The next one will be held on May 13. Please RSVP on Meetup. Any questions can be sent to my email address located beneath my name below.  PLEASE DON’T BRING BAGS YET; the community center has a basement full of them.  Don’t know how to crochet?  No problem.  You actually don’t have to crochet; you can just make “plarn” (plastic yarn).  However, I would like more people to crochet so we can get more mats completed. I or some of the “old-timers” will teach anyone who wants to learn.  For those who want to crochet, you’ll need to bring a 10mm (size N) crochet hook.  I also have some 10mm hooks available for $5.00.

Welcome New Members

  • Tom Tull
  • Athena Salman
  • Juan Mendez
  • Ryan Karvel
  • Judith Charles

The Usual Spiel

Prior to every meeting and event a volunteer request is emailed and/or posted on Meetup with a link to SignUp Genius where you can schedule your volunteer choice and time.

If something comes up and you can’t commit to your volunteer choice, please let us know so we will know to compensate for the gap.  We so appreciate your willingness to volunteer.
If you need help accessing the link, contact Chris Wojno.
Your Participation is Welcome.

This column is for the members.  I’d like it to also be about and by the members by encouraging all of you to send me announcements of life events, questions about HSGP, contribute a piece for this column or suggestions of subjects you’d like to see posted here.

Please contact me if you need any membership information or have a change of address, phone number, or email.

Anita Romanowski, Membership Director

Upcoming Speakers & Special Message from the Program Director

Headshot of James Avery Fuchs

James Avery Fuchs, Program Director

We have a lot of awesome speakers coming up, so here’s a little bit about what you’ve got to look forward to:

May

May 7: Tory Roberg

Tory Roberg will present the 2017 Legislative Wrap-up. Join us to hear what went on in the Arizona Legislature in the 2017 session. Tory Roberg, lobbyist for Secular Coalition for Arizona, will tell us what happened, what didn’t happen and provide us with her unique perspective on how our legislature functions.
RSVP for the event on meetup here.

May 21: Eddie Tabash

***NOTE: THIS EVENT WILL BEGIN AN HOUR LATER THAN NORMAL***
Eddie Tabash of the Center for Inquiry will present a discussion of the rise of the religious right and the impact on public policy. This presentation will describe how the election has brought the religious right back to full power and how religious fundamentalists seek to infuse religious doctrines into laws that are supposed to govern a pluralistic society. Eddie Tabash also works closely with believers and nonbelievers of all types in his role as chair of the legal committee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
RSVP for the event on meetup here.

June

More details soon, but June 4 we’ll have LuAnn Dahlman, a science educator with NOAA and a longtime HSGP member, and June 18 Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist podcast will be joining us as Sunday Speaker. I don’t know about you, but I am absolutely thrilled for both of these speakers!

July

July 9: Dr. Melissa Wilson Sayres

Dr. Melissa Wilson Sayres will talk about the evolutionary history of the human X and Y chromosomes, and in what ways we think they will be important for human medicine in the future. She is an Assistant Professor of Genomics, Evolution, and Bioinformatics in The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.

July 23: Dianne Post

HSGP member and activist attorney Diane Post will discuss her recent visit to Cuba. Attorney Dianne Post spent 10 days in Cuba from March 1-10. Changes are underway in spite of challenges and they are dealing with racism, sexism and homophobia openly. Come and hear about what is happening on the “forbidden island” with a slide show, photos and a movie clip.

Invocation

As our President, Chris Wojno, mentioned earlier in the newsletter, I recently wrote an invocation that generated some controversy. I wanted to share the text of that invocation with you here:

Take a moment to look around you at the people gathered here today. We come from a variety of backgrounds and interests, but the passion that ignites us; the fire that burns within us; is similar.

We all seek to form “a more perfect union,” creating change from an abiding passion to improve the lives of the humans of this city. There is wonder in that. More importantly, though, there is unity.

In a nation often eager to be polarized in its views, allow us in this moment to recognize what we have in common: A deep-seated need to help create a more just and positive world.

As we speak today, remember that commonality. Remember the humanity that resides within each and every person here, and each and every person in the city, and in all people in the nation and world as a whole.

In the words of former President of Illinois Wesleyan University Minor Meyers, Jr., “Go forth and do well, but even more, go forth and do good.”

Thank you.