HSGP went to the Capitol with our friends at the Secular Coalition. We're pretty used to humanist and atheist legislators being mocked, heckled, and shut down after all the years we've been advocating for secular government. But this time, the nerve of the Christian nationalists still managed to surprise us.
Longtime Secular Star Senator Juan Mendez requested to give the invocation for our Secular Day at the Capitol 2020. We thought it would be a nice way for Humanists here in the valley and travelling from as far away as Kingman to see we're not alone and that we're represented.
But after weeks of getting the runaround from Senate President Fann's Office, Mendez was finally scheduled to do the invocation on Secular Day, or so they promised him...
Senator Fann broke her word.
Instead of letting Mendez speak, she snubbed him at the last second without warning and asked Christian nationalist J.D. Mesnard pray to Jesus instead. Mesnard is the same former Representative who ruled Rep. Athena Salman out of order for not invoking a "higher power."
Now, HSGP is partnering with the Secular Coalition for Arizona to tell Senator Fann enough is enough. Stop the religious discrimination. Stop the bigotry. Stop government-sponsored prayer.
Please sign our open demand letter to Karen Fann by Executive Director Luke Douglas.
Office of Senate President Karen Fann
1700 W Washington Street - Senate
Phoenix, AZ 85007
Dear President Fann,
I am reaching out on behalf of the Secular Coalition for Arizona in support of my Senator, the honorable Juan Mendez, and his application, submitted weeks in advance, to give the opening invocation on February 24, 2020. This date was not chosen casually, nor was the request, made repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the day, a random exercise of Senator Mendez’ right to open the Senate with an invocation. Monday, February 24th was the Secular Coalition for Arizona’s seventh annual Secular Day at the Capitol, in which nonbelieving and interfaith constituents traveled from across the state and from as far away as Kingman to hear the Senator’s invocation.
You can imagine our surprise when, in spite of being on the schedule, Senator Mendez was snubbed at the last moment and the invocation was instead explicitly Christian. If this is, in fact, just a scheduling mistake, then the failure speaks volumes about the Senate President’s priorities, competence, and ability to represent the diverse people and beliefs of Arizona.
If it was not an accident, then we are due for a very different conversation.
The long pattern of discrimination, hazing, and outright exclusion of voices outside the Christian faith speaks to the Legislature’s systemic discrimination against nonbelieving members. The very Senator called upon, and obviously prepared in advance, to give an explicitly Christian prayer instead of Senator Mendez, is the same former Representative who ruled Representative Salman out of order for giving a secular invocation three years before.
State-sponsored prayer inherently leads to polarizing debate. It inherently makes public servants the arbiters of whose faith is represented and whose is ignored. As long as the Senate opens with prayer, the least we can ask is that all perspectives be given a voice. The Constitution, in fact, requires that a government body opening with prayer must include all perspectives and cannot require a reference to a higher power. Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 U.S. 565 (2014). When public bodies open with prayer, they cannot discriminate based on the views of the person praying. Williamson v. Brevard County, No. 17-15769 (11th Cir. 2019).
February 24 was the the Secular Day at the Capitol, with or without your support. Hundreds of Humanists, atheists, and interfaith allies gathered on the Capitol grounds to speak to our legislators. We support our Constitution and its guarantee of a wall of separation between religion and government. We organize at the local level and maintain dialogue with our legislators throughout the session. You missed your opportunity, Senator, to give Arizona’s growing secular voting bloc the pretense of representation. Now, you have the chance to make it right with meaningful change.
On behalf of the Secular Coalition for Arizona, I must implore you to stop this polarizing circus of invocation discrimination and end invocations at the Arizona State Senate.
Luke Douglas, Esq.
Secular Communities for Arizona
Executive Director and General Counsel
Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix
627 W. Rio Salado Parkway
Mesa, AZ 85201