Prayergate 2017: Secular Invocation on the House Floor Causing Backlash

Secular AZ is standing up for your constitutionally guaranteed freedom from government-imposed compliance with religious doctrines. On April 18, AZ State Representative Athena Salman offered a secular invocation to open the day’s AZ House Floor Session. Watch the video here. 
Some House members reacted immediately, stating that they were “offended” by Salman’s lack of reference to a higher power. House Majority Leader John Allen referred to his 2/16/17 Memorandum, in which he suggested that the “House Prayer” should be “focused on a higher power” and that “it has long been a tradition, not only of this legislature but of legislatures all around the country, to turn their eyes to God for guidance, wisdom and grace.” House Speaker Mesnard stated that Rep. Salman was “out of line.” Then, they “corrected” Rep. Salman by offering up a prayer referencing Jesus.
Not only do these actions show religious preference, they also violate:

  • AZ Constitution Article XX §1, which requires “perfect toleration …and no inhabitant of this state shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship, or lack of the same.”
  • Supreme Court ruling in Greece v. Galloway (2014), which reiterated historical precedent for the practice of opening local legislative meetings with prayer, and that these prayers may be Christian so long as there is no proselytizing or disparaging of other faiths or none. To rule Rep. Salman’s statements “offensive” or out of order because she did not reference a higher power or God is to disparage a person of no faith in violation of the law.
  • Appeal in Cochise County Juvenile Action (1982), in which the AZ court said, “We cannot imagine that the Legislature would give preferential treatment to one religion over another because one is more established and thus more acceptable than another.” While beliefs are absolutely protected, actions are not. To prohibit a person from delivering an invocation because they don’t believe in a higher power is not protected, as such an action differentiates between and preferences one religious belief, thus resulting in discrimination based on religion.

The Secular Coalition for Arizona supports the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion. However, as illustrated in cases such as this, our state government has clearly gone far beyond favoring religious freedom to favoring specific religions and practices for which there are no constitutional guarantees. Our efforts are aimed at strengthening the constitutional guarantees of freedom from government-imposed compliance with religious doctrines.” Secular AZ strongly supports Rep. Athena Salman’s exercise of her Constitutional right to deliver a secular invocation. Our position is clear: Government-endorsed religious expression is a violation of the constitutionally established wall of protection between church and state.

Will you help us continue to support Rep. Salman’s right to offer a secular invocation? Please donate today – we need your support and we can’t do it without you!

Please join us, our interfaith allies and Representative Athena Salman on April 20 at 9 am to show your support. We’ll meet at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza at the State Capitol, 1700 W. Washington Street in Phoenix.

Rep. Salman