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.
Tell Senate President Karen Fann: Stop Religious Discrimination at the AZ Capitol
Whereas: All Arizonans have the constitutional right to a secular government and equal protection of the law regardless of their faith or lack thereof, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 2, Section 12 of the Arizona State Constitution. And,
Whereas: The Arizona Legislature has a long history of discrimination against atheist legislators, including Senator Juan Mendez, who has been repeatedly hazed, harassed, and belittled for opening legislative sessions with secular prayers. And,
Whereas: Karen Fann’s Office confirmed that Senator Mendez would give the opening invocation on the Secular Day at the Capitol in order to represent the growing number of Arizonans who don’t believe in God. Then,
Whereas: Karen Fann broke her word and gave the invocation to Senator Mesnard, who previously in his capacity as Speaker of the House ruled atheist Representative Athena Salman out of order for her secular invocation. And,
Whereas: This action symbolically slapped Senator Mendez and atheists across the state, dozens of whom were in the gallery, in the face.
Therefore: I urge you to join the Secular Coalition for Arizona in signing our Demand Letter to Senate President Karen Fann to stop the religious bigotry and end invocations in the Arizona Senate.
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
Secular Day at Capitol Map and Short Agenda Final
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!
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!
See you at the Summit!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Secular government supporters decry Supreme Court decision upholding religious discrimination against LGBTQ customers
(Wed., Sept 17, 2019) Phoenix, Ariz. — The Arizona Supreme Court decided 4-3 yesterday that business owners who cite a conflict of religious belief can be permitted to refuse to serve certain customers. Specifically, the case ruled that the city of Phoenix could not enforce an ordinance which prohibits discrimination in providing products or services at places of public accommodation based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or disability.
The court ruled in favor of two self-described Christian artists at Brush and Nib Studio, saying the City cannot force them to create custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples. The women argued that the ordinance violates their First Amendment and Arizona constitutional rights to religion and free speech.
The women were represented by Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a legal group which challenges similar laws nationwide, and which is identified as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Per attorney and Secular Coalition for Arizona board member Dianne Post: “As the court said in Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers, it’s not about cakes or flowers—or in this case, invitations— any more than the sit-ins in the south in the 1960s were about sandwiches and soda. This is about equality and fairness. Movements toward theocracy betray American values and the Constitution.
“How do we know a person is actually motivated by a sincere religious belief rather than ignorance or bigotry? What’s really happening here is an effort to give special privileges to a narrow segment of Christians while stigmatizing other groups and refusing them the constitutional protection of the 14th Amendment— that all citizens shall not be denied equal rights under the law. This is clearly a political decision based on Christian nationalism, accomplished by the court-packing plan of Governor Ducey. Rather than engage the issue, the court has chosen to see, hear, and speak no evil in the face of evil standing in front of them.”
Legal experts have anticipated a challenge like this returning to the U.S. Supreme Court since the ADF represented a Colorado baker facing penalty under that state’s anti-discrimination law in 2018.
GOOD NEWS! Late night, the AZ Senate voted down a terrible bill that would have funneled taxpayer money into fake “women’s health” clinics that were, in reality, fronts for pro-life groups that seek to thwart access to safe, legal abortion.
HB 2759 got just 15 votes, one short of what’s needed -thanks in large part to secular supporters like you who raised their voices loudly in opposition to this bill.
- limit access to reproductive health care
- restrict women’s right to choose
- install policies that discriminate against LGTBQ individuals
- pass bills that harm sound science and medicine
- decrease funding for public schools
Follow this link to watch Robert Peoples of the Affinis Humanity Coalition deliver a moving secular invocation before the AZ State Senate as a guest of Sen. Andrea Dalessandro and Secular AZ.
For a transcript, visit Patheos Friendly Atheist Blog at: https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2019/04/02/humanist-delivers-invocation-in-az-senate-be-the-curators-of-inspiration/?fbclid=IwAR07YMntqGvHQOcTk-1XdC-C8zfSEKJ7Z25YnXoTy3EVdwauaKG6ET5-2X0
We want you to be informed before November’s election!
The Secular Coalition for Arizona offered each candidate the opportunity to respond to a survey about their views on secular-related issues. We’ll publish each survey as we receive it.
The Secular Coalition for Arizona (Secular AZ) ignited our 2017 legislative work in a charged political environment colored by the general election. We started strong, locking arms in solidarity with over 40 anti-discrimination groups during an Opening Day rally. We began lobbying immediately on January 12th against regressive bills aimed at education, science, and women’s reproductive rights. Despite the steep challenges, we remain excited by our steady gains in visibility and impact in recent years. Here’s a summary of key wins and obstacles. Read the 2017 Legislative Wrap Up here.
You’ve heard us ask you to sign into the “Request to Speak” system in support or opposition to bills we are following at the Arizona State Legislature. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to use this system from the comfort of your own home. A few reminders about the limitations of the system:
1. You may only comment on bills that are currently assigned to a committee agenda; once the bill is heard in the committee you may not add a comment
2. You must activate your account the first time you use it at the AZ State Capitol. We can help you with this if you are not able to get to the Capitol or Tucson Legislative office.
The Secular Coalition for Arizona is dismayed about the results of Tuesday night’s election. We’re especially concerned about preserving secular public education, equal rights for all, safe and affordable access to women’s reproductive health services, and religious freedom for all.
While these are concerns nationally, we are especially concerned regarding the new leadership at the Arizona State Senate and Arizona House of Representatives.
Going into the election, there was hope that the Arizona Senate would turn into a 15-15 split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, offering some hope for stopping bad bills and negotiating a bipartisan budget. Unfortunately, this has not happened. The gains made by Democrats will not outweigh the losses, and are not enough to produce an even split, but the Arizona State Senate will still be our best avenue to stop bad bills.
Senator Steve Yarbrough, owner of the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization, will lead the Senate as the new Senate President. Senator Kimberly Yee, regularly known for sponsoring and pushing anti-choice and junk science legislation, will serve as Senate Majority Leader. Senator Gail Griffin, who scored a low 14% on our Secular Scorecard, will serve as Majority Whip.
Senate Democrats look brighter for Secular Government, as several of our “Secular Stars” were chosen for leadership positions. Senate Democrats chose Secular Star Senator Katie Hobbs as Minority Leader, Senator Steve Farley as Assistant Minority Leader, and Secular Star Senator Martin Quezada and Senator Lupe Contreras as Minority Whips.
In the House of Representatives, Representative JD Mesnard was chosen for the new Speaker of the House. He is accompanied by Representative John Allen as Majority Leader and Representative Kelly Townsend as Majority Whip.
Democrats chose Representative Rebecca Rios as Minority Leader, Secular Star Representative Randall Friese as Assistant Minority Leader, and Representative Charlene Fernandez as Minority Whip.
Secular AZ will fight earnestly with new leadership in both changes to preserve secular public policy and freedom for all Arizonans. We encourage you to amplify your voice in our new government by becoming a member today!