AZ Primary Election Analysis: August 7, 2020

AZ Primary Election Analysis – August 7, 2020

AZ’s primary election delivered some surprises, with a handful of incumbents losing in the primary. Competitive districts to watch in November are LD 6, 8, 17, 18, 20, and 28. Check our Secular Scorecard for information on incumbent votes.


Arizonans turned out in record numbers to vote in the primary election held on August 4, 2020, surpassing the sum total number of votes cast in the 2018 Arizona Primary: 1,208,113 were cast then, 1,226,771 are tallied now. The vast majority of all votes were cast safely and securely using vote-by-mail. You can find more information on how to register to vote or request a mail-in ballot on the Secretary of State website

Secular Coalition for Arizona, a non-partisan 501c4 advocacy group committed to separation of church and state, watched the primary election with particular interest in several legislative races

Why Elections Matter

The partisan split in the Arizona State Senate is 17 Republicans to 13 Democrats; the Arizona State House is 31 Republicans to 29 Democrats. Most legislation requires a simple majority for passage (50% + 1), so if Senate Republicans vote as a unified caucus, they can pass almost anything with 16 votes. The House Republicans MUST vote together as a unified caucus (31 votes). If Democrats vote as a unified caucus and convince 2 Senate Republicans or 1 House Republican to vote with them, they can block legislation. Unfortunately, minority party bills are not often heard on the House or Senate floor and don’t even make it to committee.

We have several supporters of secular government in the State House and Senate; our annual “Secular Scorecard” tracks how lawmakers sponsor or vote on legislation that we support or oppose. Congratulations to returning “Secular Stars” who won their primaries and are expected to win in November: 

House: Daniel Hernandez (LD2), Andrea Dalessandro (LD2), Charlene Fernandez (LD4), Arlando Teller (LD7), Pam Powers Hannley (LD9), Randy Friese (LD9), Reginald Bolding (LD27), and Raquel Terán (LD30) 

Senate: Sally Ann Gonzales (LD3), Victoria Steele (LD9), Kirsten Engle (LD11), Rebecca Rios (LD27), and Martín Quezada (LD29).

These lawmakers have gone above and beyond just voting to ensure secular government, but are not an exclusive list of secular supporters. We are very close to achieving a legislative majority which values separation of church and state. This is why elections matter. If Arizona voters elect a majority of lawmakers who support secular public policies in either chamber, we will have our bills heard in committee, discussed, voted, and moved through the legislative process. 

Primary Election Results Analysis

Here are primary election results as of August 7. Please note these are unofficial results, but that we do not anticipate the official results to be different. Read on for a breakdown of what the primary results could mean for the November election and the new Legislature.

Arizona State Senate

Of the 30 legislative districts in the state, 12 are considered solid Republican seats (LDs 1, 5, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, and 25) and 12 are considered solid Democrat seats (LDs 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 19, 24, 26, 27, 29, and 30). The competitive Senate races to watch between now and November are LDs 6, 8, 17, 18, 20, and 28.

A Win

The biggest win for secular government was the LD26 primary, where incumbent Senator Juan Mendez, a Secular Superstar and key leader in the secular movement, handily won his primary against challenger Jana Lynn Granillo. Now he moves to the November election, where he is expected to win in a heavily Democratic district.

An Upset

The biggest upset for Secular AZ is LD15, where Center for Arizona Policy darling Nancy Barto has won a competitive race against fellow Republican Heather Carter. Senator Carter was known at the Capitol for blocking some of the most egregious bills lobbied for by the Center for Arizona Policy.  Over $1.6M was spent on just this one legislative race, highlighting the importance of this seat to stakeholders and outside interests. With this win for the Center for Arizona Policy, we can expect to see Barto sponsor more bills similar to those she has so far been unsuccessful in passing – bills opposing transgender youth, women’s reproductive rights, vaccines, and Medical Aid in Dying. We have worked in opposition to Nancy Barto’s legislation for many years and we will continue this important work. However, if the State Senate is turned into a majority of secular government supporters, her bills might stay shelved.

Other Senate Races of Interest

In LD23, incumbent Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita won her primary against newcomer Alex Kolodin. Senator Ugenti-Rita generally does not support positions of the Secular Coalition for Arizona; however, she was the sponsor of a bill we supported last session that would’ve made birth control more readily accessible and available for women statewide.

In LD6, incumbent Senator Sylvia Allen, a young-earth creationist who has championed anti-sex education and anti-science bills and repeatedly expanded the state’s school voucher program, lost her primary race to newcomer Wendy Rogers. Wendy Rogers faces Democrat Felecia French in the November election, and the race is considered quite competitive.

LD11 turnout for Democrats was high, but they still face an uphill battle with registrations for the November election. Incumbent Vince Leach is a darling of the Center for Arizona Policy and will face challenger Democrat primary winner Joanna Mendoza (read Joanna’s secular survey responses).

Two highly competitive senate races to watch are LD20 and LD8. Neither of these races had a primary challenge, so they were uncontested in yesterday’s election. However, these races will heat up in November when incumbent Senator Paul Boyer faces challenger newcomer Democrat Doug Ervin (read Doug’s response to the secular survey here) in LD20, and when incumbent Representative TJ Shope competes against former lawmaker Barbara McGuire in LD8. 

Arizona State House

Each of the 30 legislative districts has two seats in the House of Representatives. For November’s election, 27 seats are considered solid Republican and 25 seats are considered solid Democrat. The remaining eight seats are competitive.


LD26 – Incumbent Secular Superstar Athena Salman handily won her primary, along with her chosen seatmate Melody Hernandez, in a four-way race. Athena and Melody are expected to win in November in this heavily Democrat district.

LD13 – Former state lawmaker and failed congressional candidate Steve Montenegro lost to incumbents Tim Dunn and Joanne Osborne in this heavily-Republican district. While Secular AZ does not receive any kind of secular government support from the LD13 incumbents, our community has been hurt by Steve Montenegro during his tenure as a lawmaker. In 2016, while Mr. Montenegro was majority leader in the State House, he spent hours trying to block atheist lawmaker Juan Mendez from leading the daily prayer on the House floor. In fact, Montenegro released a memo telling representatives if they wish to lead the daily prayer, that they must “pray to a higher power.” He has also been the sponsor of several anti-LGBTQ bills and religious privilege bills. If the unofficial results do not change, he will not return to the state legislature in 2021.

Single-Shot Opportunities

A tactic used by both Republicans and Democrats to try to gain a seat in a slightly competitive district is to run just one candidate when there are two House seats. The theory is that some voters will vote for one Republican and one Democrat in a race with two seats. This tactic sometimes can gain the district’s minority party enough votes to take one of the seats and has worked in the past, most recently in LD17 in 2018 when teacher Jennifer Pawlik (D) earned the most votes in a Republican-leaning district and was elected alongside a Republican counterpart.  Many of the competitive races are so because of the single-shot strategy.  

LD6 – Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans faces off against former lawmaker Brenda Barton (see how Brenda voted on secular issues in 2018 and 2017)and incumbent Walt Blackman. This single-shot campaign has a real opportunity to win a seat; in 2018 the LD6 senate seat was a very close race, and is indicative of the changing views of the constituency. Mayor Evans did not return our secular survey, but receives an honorable mention in that Flagstaff is one of the few cities in the state which does not open council meetings with a prayer; a sign of respect for separation of church and state.

LD8 – Incumbents David Cook and fFrank Pratt (consistently low scorers on our scorecard) will be facing secular supporter and newcomer Sharon Girard (read Sharon’s secular survey answers here) as she attempts a single-shot seat in what is considered a competitive district in November.

LD11 – Newcomer Felipe Perez had a strong turnout in LD11 as a single-shot Democrat vying for one of two seats in November. His vote count was under 50 votes shy of the top Republican Incumbent Mark Finchem and over 3,000 more votes than incumbent Bret Roberts. 

LD17 – As mentioned above, Jennifer Pawlik is once again running a single-shot campaign to keep her seat in the Arizona House. LD17 is highly competitive and she was the top vote-getter in the 2018 campaign. She will face incumbent Jeff Weninger and newcomer Liz Harris.

LD20 – This is one of the hottest competitive districts in the state with single-shot newcomer Judy Schweibert (read Judy’s secular survey answers here) challenging Center for Arizona Policy darlings incumbents Anthony Kern and Shawnna Bolick.  

LD21 – Newcomer Kathy Knecht, a former Independent-turned-Democrat received the highest vote count of any primary candidate in heavily-Republican LD21. She will face Republican incumbent Kevin Payne and newcomer Beverly Pingerelli.

Other Competitive Races

LD28 has competitive races in both the House and Senate, and is considered one of the most highly competitive districts in the state. There were no primary races in this district and the lead up to the November election is expected to get heated.

Additional Comments

LD4 incumbent Gerae Peten is a friend to the Secular Coalition and faces a single-shot Republican candidate; this is potentially a competitive race. Read Gerae’s secular survey responses here.



If you support the fight for a secular Arizona government, please consider making a donation today to support our work.


Supreme Court to Arizona: Discrimination is Legal

Arizona’s charter school system isn’t just defunding public education, it’s opened the door to discrimination in the name of “religious liberty.” It’s been decades in the making as the State created a wild west culture of charter school profiteering, but this path has finally led to legal discrimination owing to two decisions of the Trump-stacked Supreme Court.

Luke DouglasFirst, the Court handed us Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that private school vouchers could not be limited to religiously neutral schools. Now taxpayers in every state can be required to pay to support other people’s religious education. As a graduate of fundamentalist homeschooling, I can see it’s one thing for parents to pull their kids from public school and opt for creationist, homophobic, or Confederate-flag-waving indoctrination on their own dime like mine did. It’s another to expect your neighbors to pay for it.

Then, just this week, the Court took a sledgehammer tochurch/state separation with a decision whose impact will be drastic when paired with Espinoza. In Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrissey-Berru, a private Catholic school fired a teacher for what the teacher alleged was age discrimination. The school argued that anti-discrimination laws did not apply under the ministerial exception, and therefore the EEOC and the court system had no authority to question the firing. The ministerial exception isn’t original to this case. For example, it’s the reason a church that believes it’s a sin to be gay can fire their pastor for being gay.

The problem is determining where the ministerial exception stops. The teacher in this case wasn’t ordained. She didn’t carry the title of minister. She was an English teacher who was required to insert some religious content into instruction. But the Court elevated her position as it said:

“The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers … lie at the core of their mission.”

Therefore, the ministerial exception applied to her, and the school could fire her without recourse. Her case that the firing was motivated by age discrimination will never be heard. The only question left is where it will stop.

As an attorney, my first thought is to put myself on the other side of future cases that will arise under these precedents. If I’m the lawyer for a private Christian school in Arizona, the first thing I’m doing now is demanding taxpayer funding under Espinoza. Second, I’m advising my client to require their staff to be as active in the religious aspects of the school as possible. Is their math teacher too secular to fall under the ministerial exception? Require them to open every class with prayer. Does a school administrator do their job without the religious mission of the school affecting their work? Mandate all staff to participate in weekly Bible studies so they can’t avoid it.

This is how a Christian school exempts itself from equal opportunity laws. This is how they ensure they can fire those staff later if their personal life doesn’t line up with the school’s faith. And most crucially of all, all of us will have to pay for it with money our public schools desperately need.

What can we do about it? For starters, the Supreme Court isn’t elected, but it’s very much on the ballot this November. But here at home, Arizona needs to take a good look in the mirror. If taking money from public schools means supporting legal discrimination, maybe we should revisit our priorities.

Luke Douglas, Esq., J.D.

Executive Director

General Counsel
Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix

Espinoza vs Montana: Dianne Post Weighs in on SCOTUS’ Judicial Activism

June 30, 2020

Dianne Post, Legal Director

Secular Communities for AZ

The Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana illustrates the height of judicial activism and the length to which this politicized court will go to enshrine their religious philosophy into the law.  The Montana Supreme Court had already held that the program funding vouchers could not stand and overturned it under state law.  So there was no case or controversy for the Supreme Court to Consider.  But the Supreme Court took the case anyway because they had a principle they wanted to instill – that governments must fund religious beliefs. 

Though the program had already been held unconstitutional under the state law, the Supreme Court went ahead and ruled that the no-aid provision in the state constitution discriminated against religious schools and families whose children attended.  But the schools were not even plaintiffs in the suit – only the families who wanted to exercise their religious beliefs at the cost of everyone else’s.  Like those who believe they have a right to refuse to wear a mask (which is not a fundamental right) even though it would support a public health goal for all of the people.  One judge had such sympathy for the single mother who worked three jobs and could not afford the school but he failed to question why a single mother has to work three jobs?  Why doesn’t she get paid a living wage at one job?  If she did, perhaps she could afford the school of her choice.   

The court said the Free Exercise Clause protects religious observers against unequal treatment.  With at least 1,500 different religious sects in the U.S., what observance will be protected?  Praying five times a day?  Praying a rosary?  Killing a chicken? The five-member majority  (Roberts, Gorsuch, Alito, Thomas, Kavanagh) argued that the reasoning wasn’t based on what the school was to do as in the Locke case where he was going to be a priest and proselytize,  but their status as a religious school.

They also astonishingly claimed there was history in the U.S. of not funding the training of clergy but no history of not funding religious schools – except perhaps the entire First Amendment jurisprudence.   Breyer’s dissent outlined a substantial history of exactly that. 

The only solution is to have no voucher system at all.  That is what the people of Arizona told the state legislature by a margin of over 60%. In disregard of the people, the legislature went right ahead and approved more vouchers.  This in spite of the fact that the school “choice” program has been proven to be discriminatory, provide no better education than public school, and have insufficient oversight to prevent graft and fraud. 

The parties in the case did not argue the establishment clause only the free exercise clause.  The court repeated that the Establishment Clause is not offended when religious observers and organizations benefit from neutral government programs. It is interesting that religions want to receive public benefits under neutral government programs.  But when the neutral government program or law gives a benefit to someone else, the religions want to be exempted.  For example, the neutral government law mandating public accommodations says that no business may discriminate against a person because s/he is a gay or lesbian. But religious people don’t want to abide by that neutral law that benefits the LGBT community.  No they even brought a pre-enforcement suit in Phoenix to exempt themselves from having to give other people the benefit of neutral laws.  They should not be able to have it both ways.  If they get to benefit from neutral laws, then they should abide by neutral laws.  If they don’t abide by neutral laws, then they should not benefit. I fear this Supreme Court does not care about this hypocrisy as they didn’t in Hobby Lobby where the corporation in question was heavily invested in the very birth control company they refused to allow their employees to partake.

A lot of ink was spilled over the Trinity Lutheran case where the court ruled that a church who was seeking a grant to resurface a parking lot could not be prohibited where a student seeking a grant to get a divinity degree could in Locke.  Stunningly they decided that a parent wanting a religious education for her child was more like a parking lot than like a divinity student so the reasoning of Trinity Lutheran applied.      

Even more ink was spilled to prove that the country had a tradition of supporting religious schools.  The court’s own story shows that supporting such schools resulted in chaos, fights, divisions, even riots and violence – precisely why the government should stay completely out of religion.  They said well the early fights were against Catholics and we should not countenance such discrimination.  If that is the case, then put the Equal Right Amendment into the Constitution because that discrimination should not be allowed to stand.  Eliminate the Electoral College because that discrimination should not be allowed to stand.  And I could go on.

The court simply cannot see how Montana’s argument that the no-aid provision promotes religious freedom can be. They reject the wisdom of many a religious leader who knows that when government interferes in religion, it won’t be long before it controls it.  When it controls it, it will substitute its own religion for that of the individual and nothing but discord will abound in the land. 

The court says that states do not have to subsidize private education at all – which is what Montana decided when it ended the program. But the court then ordered Montana to do something even though there is no program to end.  The court seems offended that the Montana court ended the program by declaring it unconstitutional rather than the legislature ending it.  But that is what courts do all the time – declare statutes unconstitutional.  Since Marbury v. Madison that has been their job – determine what the law is.  Yet the Supreme Court chastises the Montana Supreme Court for doing just that.  Why?  Because the Supreme Court is laying the groundwork to force states to fund religious schools.   

The Thomas and Gorsuch concurrence argues that the entire First Amendment jurisprudence is wrong and has been for a long time.  According to Thomas, and now he has another adherent, the amendment only applies to the federal government imposing a religion on the states and to nothing else. It does not, according to him, prohibit preferring one religion over another or religion over non-religion.  His real argument is that those who want to discriminate on moral grounds as he defines them should be able to do so citing Masterpiece Cake

After saying he doesn’t believe historical factors should be taken into account, Alito takes historical factors into account by arguing that it was anti-Catholic bias that motivated the passage of the no-aid provisions.  He outlines the history of mob violence and riots between Protestants and Catholics – making precisely the case for the government staying out of religion!  He mentioned that Catholics had to establish their own schools because of using the King James Bible in public schools (which is why no Bible is allowed in school) but he does not mention the establishment of private schools after the Brown v. Board of Education decision to avoid integration or the reason there were religious schools in Reconstruction was because Blacks were not allowed to go to school with whites.

Gorsuch main argument in his concurrence was that he does not see the difference between status and action.  This is a very dangerous and slippery slope as he argues that the religious have the right to act on their beliefs i.e. to refuse service to an LGBT person because it would cause them to “act” in violation of their religion.  Earlier status/action cases have been successfully managed e.g. homosexual behavior (then criminal) versus homosexual status (not criminal); public drunkenness or drunken driving (criminal) and being an alcoholic (status and not criminal).  But Gorsuch is trying to unthread that needle.   He wants to protect religious actions no matter their impact on another person. This bodes ill for the public accommodations cases.

He also argues that the First Amendment protects religious conduct in receiving public benefits.  This is also troubling given cases before the court in which religious entities receiving public benefits seek to discriminate against other religions than their own (Catholic) and other people specifically LGBT people to prohibit foster care and adoption.  Gorsuch argues that no pressure can be put on a religious person to modify his behavior or violate his belief.  In other words, the owners of the Atlanta Motel should have been able to refuse to rent to Blacks because it violated their religion.  Virginia should have been able to prohibit the marriage of Blacks and whites because it violated the religion of those in the legislature.  Or a county clerk can refuse a marriage license to a gay person because it violates her religious belief.  It is nothing but a fig leaf covering discrimination.      

Gorsuch also argued that taking a neutral stance benefits nonbelievers because those most passionate in their beliefs are prohibited from acting out their very strong beliefs whether it’s knocking on your door to hand out religious pamphlets or refusing to work in a plant making ammunition or exorcising children with coat hanger beatings and near drownings because of belief in the devil or dunking women considered witches or prohibiting birth control or abortions because they say so.  He laments that an intent to protect religion may turn into a cudgel to ensure conformity when in fact that is precisely what his side is doing – they have turned religious freedom into a sword rather than a shield. 

In the Ginsburg and Kagan dissent they point out the obvious – there was no case for the court to decide and the court violated Article III that requires a case or controversy before deciding constitutional matters.  The Supreme Court said that a state could decide to have no program at all and that is what Montana did.  So there was no case.  Yet the Court went ahead and ordered them to do what?

In the Breyer and Kagen dissent they argued that the free exercise and the establishment clauses have to be taken together to avoid religiously based discord and yet secure liberty for all faiths and none.  This decision does the opposite by inflicting a rigid application of strict scrutiny on the free exercise clause and entangling government in religion.   

They cover the history of discord and division from the existence of state funding for religious teaching and argue that is why the government has to be strictly neutral. They also argue that from the founding of the country taxpayer supported religious indoctrination was seen as a threat to individual liberty. They pointed out the history of Madison and Jefferson and the Virginia religious establishment law. Jefferson considered it sinful and tyrannical to force a person to support a religion which s/he disbelieves. The  founding generation, including George Washington, Patrick Henry, and John Marshall, supported Virginia’s Assessment Bill not to tax citizens for a particular religion.

The court does not balance the right of those who choose not to fund religious education, elevating the right of those who do. They also point out the foolishness of the “status” versus “doing” argument by asking what in fact does a religious school do but teach religion. That is why the parents have chosen to send their children there.

As they point out, the Montana law did not punish religious exercise – they chose not to subsidize schools that teach religion. Choosing not to subsidize a fundamental right, such as marriage or voting for example, does not infringe on the right.  However this decision may be laying the groundwork for an attack on public funding of public schools by saying that it is harmful for religious schools not to get their fingers into that public taxpayer money.

The Sotomayor dissent was equally scathing.  As she said, the state supreme court had already ended the program on state law grounds and there was no federal question to be answered.  Not only did the Supreme Court violate Article III, it is clear that they are engaged in judicial activism by reaching hard for this tenuous case and turning it into a vehicle they can use to destroy the wall of separation between church and state. 

After wrongfully taking the case, they wrongly decided it. This is the first time the court is requiring a state to provide funds to a church in clear violation of the First Amendment, precedent, history, and the long supported separation of church and state. The Supreme Court held that because the state did not benefit religious exercise, they are compelled to do so. It is the first time the court orders that public funds must be used to pay for religious education. And it is wrong. The government is not obligated to fund a right e.g. I have a right to free speech but the government is not obligated to pay for my megaphone or website, allegedly I have a right to carry a gun but the government is not obligated to buy me one.  But with this decision, because I have a right to free exercise of my religion, the state is obligated to pay for my children’s schooling. As Sotomayor says, the ruling is perverse.  It turns the amendment on its head and mandates the state pay for someone to exercise their religion.  That was never its intent. 

Letter to Bullhead City, AZ Mayor & City Council from the Kingman Freethinkers

The Honorable Tom Brady, Mayor Bullhead City, and Council Members,

Secular people, including atheists, agnostics, deists, humanists, skeptics, freethinkers, and other nonreligious people, are everywhere. They are your friends, neighbors, coworkers, and loved ones. But they often cannot be open about who they are.

Recently a member of Kingman Freethinkers and a resident of Bullhead City brought to our attention that the City Council voted to post “In God We Trust” in chamber, he went on to ask “Is there any action that can be taken on this?”

We ask the Honorable Tom Brady, Vice Mayor and City Council members not to display the motto, and, if displayed, to remove it.

Study after study demonstrates growth in the secular segment of society. We are now the second largest “religious” group in North America and most of Europe. In the United States, we make up somewhere between 23% and 28% of American adults. We concede that in Bullhead City that percentage may be lower, but make no mistake, we are here and a significant portion of the population.

Lawmakers can no longer ignore this community. Recent studies show that 94.7% of the religiously unaffiliated are registered to vote and 86.5% always or nearly always vote. This rate is significantly higher than the general population.

We are all American, but some of us are not part of the “We” in “In God We Trust.” Millions of good, moral, patriotic citizens do not believe in a god. We pay taxes, vote, sit on juries, and serve in the military, but every time we look at a dollar bill we are told that Congress considers us outsiders. To be accurate, the motto should say, “In God Some Of Us Trust,” and wouldn’t that be silly? This is just one of the reasons why it is divisive. Most people would consider “In Jesus We Trust” to be exclusionary and inappropriate. Why is it okay to exclude atheists and agnostics or any other group that does not accept the concept of “God”?

What happened to “E Pluribus Unum”?

In 1956 Congress adopted the phrase as our national motto, replacing the historic and more accurate “E Pluribus Unum” (“From Many, One”) chosen by Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams. In 1957 Congress put “IN GOD WE TRUST” on all currency. Before then, it had appeared only sporadically, since the Civil War, on some coins.

The 1950s was a time of intense Cold War hysteria. “Under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. During the McCarthy era, no congressperson wanted to be seen voting against “God.” When Rep. Bennett introduced the bill to put “In God We Trust” on our money, he gave the threat of “materialistic communism” as a justification.

“In God We Trust” on money is a Cold War anachronism. If there ever were any truly “unAmerican” activities, then defacing our secular currency with religious graffiti was one of them.

The American way is to ensure liberty, to let people decide for themselves what to believe. The Supreme Court has ruled that the government is restricted to secular actions alone, that it must neither advance nor hinder religion. “In God We Trust” is a religious phrase. It does not belong on the legal tender of our secular nation, or on the walls of our institutions.

Let’s reclaim our traditional, inclusive, American motto: “E Pluribus Unum”.

In God We Trust is not our founding motto and cannot even be found in the Bible but can be found in the Quran.

The literal phrase “In God We Trust” does not appear in any Christian Bible or Jewish Tanakh.  The phrase is literally found in two places of the Quran, in Surah 10 Yunus 10:85, as well as Surah 7, Al-A’raf 7:89.  It first appeared in the U.S. in 1864 on a two-cent piece but not on paper money until 1957.  It was first suggested by a pastor in Pennsylvania in 1861 to make it clear that God was on the side of the Union in the Civil War.  In 1863, it began to be put on coins, but legislation was necessary and that was passed in 1864.

Objections to its use have been ongoing.  The first case was brought in 1967, then again in 1978, and the latest in 2018.  One court said the “primary purpose of the slogan was secular.” Another said it is patriotic or ceremonial and has lost all religious content. One court said the motto had no theological or ritualistic impact – so god has no theology? It is amazing that religious people do not object to the courts calling their god secular – a stance that trivializes their entire belief system.

President Theodore Roosevelt objected to the irreverence caused by putting it on coins:

“… My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good, but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege. … Any use which tends to cheapen it, and, above all, any use which tends to secure its being treated in a spirit of levity, is from every standpoint profoundly to be regretted. … it seems to me eminently unwise to cheapen such a motto by use on coins … In all my life I have never heard any human being speak reverently of this motto on the coins or show any signs of its having appealed to any high emotion in him, but I have literally, hundreds of times, heard it used as an occasion of and incitement to … sneering … Every one must remember the innumerable cartoons and articles based on phrases like ‘In God we trust for the 8 cents,’ … Surely, I am well within bounds when I say that a use of the phrase which invites constant levity of this type is most undesirable. …” – Theodore Roosevelt, November 1907

The unifying theme chosen by the founders has been discarded in favor of a phrase that creates levity and irreverence toward religion. Nevertheless, it has been ruled by the courts to be secular and of no theological importance.  Ironically, it seems that those yelling the loudest for religion in the public square are doing the most to diminish that very concept.

While some politicians and advocates claim that these laws are intended to showcase the national motto or inspire patriotism, it is clear that their true purpose is to peddle religiosity to a captive audience. The motto “In God We Trust” is inaccurate, exclusionary, and unnecessarily entangles church and state. It is an unvarnished attack on American secularism and civil liberties — those things we cherish greatly about our democracy and which we tirelessly defend.

Politicians work for ALL of their constituents, not just those who share their faith. The controversy that surrounds the taxpayer funded public display of theistic messages and prayer and the petty theatrics it seems to attract testify to the fact that Arizona can do better. We could all get along a lot better if we cut out the theistic theatrics and got down to the business of governance instead.

We ask the Honorable Tom Brady, Vice Mayor and City Council members not to display the motto, and, if displayed, to remove it.

Kingman Freethinkers are a secular social group serving Mohave County.


Mark Nisski

Kingman Freethinkers are an Affiliate of American Atheists and Secular Coalition for Arizona. We are also closely aligned with American Humanist Association and Freedom From Religion Foundation.

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Coronavirus/COVID-19 Announcement

In light of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 situation, we wanted to let you know that Secular AZ is following the guidelines issued by the CDC and echoed by the Arizona Department of Health. We have suspended Secular AZ meetings and events until further notice, and advised our liaised organizations around Arizona do the same.

By now, most of you are probably aware of the urgency of practicing social distancing and good hygiene to minimize spread of the Coronavirus.

Unfortunately, at this point, some leaders continue to advise their constituents to continue in their normal course of life. This will put many more people at risk and will have disastrous consequences, as clearly illustrated by the following articles:

As a secular organization, we believe that we should use all the tools of modern medicine and science to minimize the risk of infection to all residents of our state and country in this looming crisis.

Science makes it clear that just one case of COVID-19 could lead to thousands more if we all don’t limit social contact right now. Please do all you can to stop the spread through social distancing and limiting non-essential activities.

Stay well,

Secular AZ Board and Staff

Christians Only: Nonbelievers Need Not Apply?

The AZ Legislature has a long history of discrimination against atheist legislators, who have been repeatedly hazed, harassed, and belittled for opening legislative sessions with secular invocations.

It happened again this week, at our annual Secular Day at the Capitol. Senate President Karen Fann’s Office confirmed that Sen Juan Mendez would give the opening invocation that day, in order to represent the growing number of Arizonans who don’t believe in God. She broke her word and gave the invocation to Senator Mesnard, who gave a (conveniently ready-to-go) Christian prayer.

This action symbolically slapped Sen Mendez and AZ atheists, dozens of whom were in the gallery that day, in the face.

We’re tired of this disrespect toward nonbelieving Arizonans. We’re also tired of the controversy that surrounds public prayer and the petty theatrics it seems to attract.

Arizona can do better.

We’re calling upon Senate President Fann to stop the religious bigotry and end invocations in the Arizona Senate.

Please sign our petition to end invocations in the AZ Senate.


Tell Senate President Karen Fann: Stop Religious Discrimination at the AZ Capitol



Click here to sign this petition.

Tucson Presentation: David Tamayo

Hey Tucson! Join Freethought Arizona and Secular AZ on Saturday, February 22, at the Murphy-Wilmot Library, for a presentation with David Tamayo, founder of Hispanic American Freethinkers, the first and only national Latinx 501(c)(3) educational organization of its kind.

– This free event starts at 2pm
– 530 N Wilmot Road, Tucson

Tamayo will present “Artificial Intelligence, Secular Humanism, and Other Scary Thoughts.” This talk will touch on topics located at the intersection of secular humanism, philosophy, consciousness, science, and free will.



Sunday Speaker at HSGP: David Tamayo


This talk connects A.I. to Humanism, especially about the near future for humanity.

David Tamayo is president and founder of Hispanic American Freethinkers, (HAFree) which is the first and only national Latino non-profit educational organization of its kind. He is also Chief Information Officer for a large aerospace engineering firm in D.C. David is the organizer of the HAFree High School Outreach Mentor Program to Latino and immigrant students teaching Critical Thinking Skills and Career Planning.

David sponsors and assists 10 cybersecurity teams at Langley High School competing in the U.S Air Force National CyberPatriot Competition. He is Vice President and founder of the Hispanic Business and Technology Council, a non-profit that educates young Hispanics to become IT leaders.​

The meeting is free and open to the public. Doors open at 9:00 am for socializing with an optional Continental breakfast available for a $5 donation. The meeting begins at 10:00 am.

For more info, visit the HSGP website.

February 23rd, 2020 10:00 AM   through   11:30 AM
MESAAZ 85201-4009

Secular Day at the Capitol: February 24, 2020

Secular Day at Capitol Map and Short Agenda Final

Save the date: Secular Day at the Capitol is February 24, 2020.

Calling ALL who support separation of church and state to join us on February 24, 2020, for our 7th Annual Secular Day at the Capitol. Here’s what you can expect:

– Learn about current threats to secular government

– Advocacy training

– Meetings with your lawmakers

– Group introductions from the House and Senate

– SPECIAL GUEST SPEAKER: DAVID TAMAYO, Founder and President of Hispanic Freethinkers

– Lunch & shirt included!

Registration closes February 17, 2020, so don’t delay!

RSVP for this FREE event by February 7  to qualify for your Secular AZ bracelet. 

Sunday Speaker at HSGP: Mandisa Thomas of Black Nonbelievers

Join our friends at the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix on Sunday, December 8, for Sunday Speaker Mandisa Thomas: “How Religion Has Crippled the Black Community.”

While the Black community in the United States makes up approximately 12 percent of the population, 79 percent still identify as religious, which makes the subject of atheism challenging, and open identification very stigmatizing.

Mandisa Thomas will discuss the institutional reasons for the high religiosity in the Black community, how her organization Black Nonbelievers is building community and increasing visibility for those who need support, and how the secular community can improve on its understanding and help for people of color in the movement.

Black Nonbelievers’ merchandise will be available for purchase at the meeting.

Doors open at 9:00 am for optional buffet breakfast ($5 donation) and socializing. Presentation begins at 10:00 am.

Please RSVP on the HSGP website.



Secular Summit 2019 Tickets Available

Join us on December 7 for the 5th annual Secular Summit!

This members-only event is a day of secular networking, education, advocacy and action, including updates from our legal team and our Director of Government Affairs. (Not a member yet? Become one today!)

Our keynote speaker this year is Mandisa Thomas, founder of Black Nonbelievers. More speakers to be announced!

Tickets are just $15, lunch included. Become a host, super host, or event sponsor and help support the fight to keep Arizona secular!

RSVP now to save your seat. Tickets on sale until 12/5, so don’t wait!

See you at the Summit!