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.
A September, 2017 study from the Public Religion Research Institute found that those identifying as non-religious are the largest demographic in 20 states, including Arizona. (Here in AZ, “nones” make up 26% of the population.) Of these, six in 10 identify as “secular” while just over 25% identify as “atheist” or agnostic. These numbers illustrate a significant generational shift, and highlight the importance of ensuring that our state’s policies are secular… and equitable for all!
Find the report here: https://www.prri.org/research/american-religious-landscape-christian-religiously-unaffiliated/
Secular AZ Board member and attorney Dianne Post joined concerned Fountain Hills residents to bring attention to the town’s improper and unconstitutional use of taxpaper money to promote a religious event.
At a June 1 Town Council meeting, FH resident Susan Fallon objected to Mayor Linda Kavanaugh’s proclamation supporting a “National Day of Prayer” event, noting that the Mayor’s endoresement and the town’s use of taxpayer dollars to support the prayer event represent an unconsitutional endorsement of religion.
Fallon told the town council that “It is not acceptable for the government to insert itself into the religious arena, thereby excluding the growing number of agnostics, atheists and those who simply hold to no specific religion.”
Post agrees, noting in a letter to the town and the town council that:
“The town has communicated the message that the government endorses prayer and encourages its citizens to engage in it. That is taking sides on a matter of religious belief.
“We request that you take immediate action to rectify past violations and to prevent future violations. The city must withdraw support from the prayer event, issue no more proclamation, and spend no taxpayer dollars on prayer events.”
The Phoenix New Times published an article on Republican House members’ overreach after Rep. Athena Salman offered a secular invocation on the House Floor earlier this week.
As Salman noted, “The Arizona House of Representatives is the people’s house,” she said, her voice cracking. “Opening prayers in the House should represent Arizonans of every faith’s perspective. This includes the hundreds of thousands of Arizonans who, like myself, who do not believe in a supernatural god, but do believe in the power of humanity to do good in the world.”
Secular AZ agrees. Read the article in the Phoenix New Times here.
On April 18th, 2017, State Representative Athena Salman offered a humanist invocation written by a member of her community, the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix. House leadership then ruled that, despite Salman’s assertion that her higher power is “the goodness in humanity,” Salman broke house rules by not praying to a higher power.
112 prayers have been recorded in the AZ House and Senate floors this year, 91% of them theistic and 80% specifically Christian or Judeo-Christian. Only six overtly secular invocations have been given this year, and three—including Rep Salman’s—prompted immediate reprovals or calls to order at the time they were delivered.
“The Arizona House of Representatives is the people’s house,” Salman said at a recent press conference. “Opening prayers in the House should represent Arizonans of every faith perspective. This includes the hundreds of thousands of Arizonans who, like myself, do not believe in a supernatural God but do believe in the power of humanity to do good in the world.”
We agree: Legislative prayers—if they are to be held—must be open to Arizonans of every faith’s perspective, even those who do not subscribe to a supernatural power.
If you live in Arizona: call your legislators and tell them that lawmakers must be treated equally regardless of faith, and this includes expressing their beliefs during the opening prayer. Encourage them to seek better understanding of their nontheist colleagues’ viewpoints, to find common ground.
Secular Coalition for Arizona was featured in The Nation magazine this week. The article — entitled An Arizona Legislator Gave an Invocation that Didn’t Mention God. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next — detailed the controversy that erupted after Representative Athena Salman offered an invocation that didn’t mention a “higher power” on the House floor this week.
Secular AZ is proud to support Rep. Salman’s constitutionally protected right to offer a secular invocation rather than a religiously based prayer. As our Board Chair, Zenaido Quintana, noted at yesterday’s Standing for Our First Freedom interfaith event, “By requiring these ‘prayers’ to recognize a ‘higher power,’ the House rules silence secular lawmakers and prejudicially deny them a platform to speak that is available to their religious colleagues.”
Read the article in The Nation here:
Speak up for End-of-Life Choices- DEADLINE: MARCH 8 @ 2PM – SIGN INTO THE LEGISLATURE’S “REQUEST TO SPEAK” SYSTEM IN OPPOSITION TO SB1439
We invite you to join us on March 8 at 2pm at the Arizona House of Representatives, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, Hearing Room 4 to share your stories and your views on end-of-life choices. You must sign into the legislature’s “Request to Speak” system if you wish to speak in Committee. If you can’t be at the Capitol, or you just don’t want to speak, you can still sign into the “Request to Speak” system and make your coments without physically being at the Capitol.
This bill allows heath care providers to opt out of end-of-life care without consequence. Having this bill in committee is a rare opportunity for advocates of end-of-life choices to be heard at Legislature. Come and speak to the importance of honoring end-of-life choices, including the very popular Advanced Directives.
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.
First: we’re continuing to fight two subjective morality bills that just passed the Senate.
The CAP-written S1367 forces doctors to perform life-saving procedures on aborted and preterm births, even when it is clear resuscitation is futile and no matter the gestational age.
Our professional allies from the OB/GYN community testified that in cases of hopeless miscarriages, “comfort care” is critical: allowing the mother to cradle the dying life in its final moments alleviates intense psychological trauma. This same trauma can be exacerbated by forcing the mother to witness pointless mechanical revival attempts. Read the entire powerful testimony in the attachment, below.
This is a crucial argument we are hoping to emphasize as the bill moves to the House.
If you or anyone you know has a personal story about this and can share it with lawmakers (in private or on the floor), we need you.
Please contact Tory Roberg if you can help: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, S1439 affects the other end of the life cycle: creating legal escape hatches for health care providers who refuse end-of-life care.
This is a subversive attack on Advance Directives, fueled by religious morality. Organizations like Death With Dignity and Compassion & Choices are already in our corner, but we need your suggestions for other potential allies as well as your personal stories.
Again, please contact Tory above if you can be of any assistance.
Momentum on the ESA bills is temporarily halted as they lack the critical votes to go further. They’re not dead yet, though, so don’t let your guard down. Call your Representatives to urge them to vote no on SB1431 and HB2394.
Finally, our science education license plates bill (H2354) is in committee in the Senate next week. We support this bill because we support science. The Science Education Fund is largely expected to benefit the Arizona Science Center.
In a January 10, 2017 press release, the Corporation Commission announced that it will start a new practice: starting meetings with a prayer. Contrary to the statements of Chairman Tom Forese, prayer in any form does not encompass all faiths and beliefs. In fact, prayer before government meetings is a divisive act that only serves to set people apart. That was immediately evident by the comment of Forese to a reporter that if the Satanists requested to do a prayer, “Satan has no place at the commission.” This is exactly the kind of discrimination that is prohibited under the First Amendment.
Read the full text of our letter to the Corporation Commission in response to their January 10, 2017 press release in the attached file.
On Monday, January 9, 2017, Secular Coalition for Arizona stood in unity with over 40 groups at an anti-hate rally for the opening day of the 53rd Arizona State Legislature.
Watch video of our Government Affairs Director, Tory Roberg, as she represented Secular Coalition for Arizona and our constituency.
Lawmakers were asked to sign the following pledge:
People’s State of the State Pledge
I PLEDGE on this first day of the 53rd Session of the Arizona State Legislature, January 9, 2017, that I commit to protect the human and civil rights of all people of the State of Arizona. I believe that every individual is entitled to dignity and respect, without prejudice toward race, color, gender, identity, disability, language, religion or lack thereof, creed, national origin, age, sexual orientation, and economic status.
I will do everything in my power to discourage prejudice and hate by others at every opportunity, personally and politically. Under my leadership, I ensure that I will advocate and encourage my colleagues to advocate for legislative policies that promote dignity and respect, and discourage any type of legislative policy that institutionalizes any practice of social injustice. I will strive daily to honor this pledge, accepting responsibility for my leadership and its influence over national, state, and local policy.
– United Against Hate Coalition, January 9, 2017
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!