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U.S. Lawmaker “Comes Out” As Atheist During Prayer Meeting
May 22, 2013
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Most sessions of Arizona's House and Senate start the same way: with a prayer. But Tuesday afternoon, things went a little differently.

That's because the prayer session was led by Democratic Arizona State Representative Juan Mendez, who, in a rare move for a U.S. politician, took the opportunity to tell the assembly - and the world - that he follows a "secular humanist tradition." In essence, that he's an atheist.

As he spoke, Mendez used the opportunity to highlight the idea that, religious convictions aside, "by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences." He also quoted author Carl Sagan.

Mendez started the "prayer" session by asking people not to bow their heads and then he delivered this speech:

"I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state," he said.

"This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration," Mendez went on. "But this is also a room where, as my secular humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences."

"We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love. Carl Sagan once wrote, 'For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.'"

Arizona's legislature is currently controlled by the Republican party, which is traditionally associated with religion. It's safe to say some attendees were taken by surprise.

Mendez also introduced members of the Secular Coalition for Arizona who were sitting in the House gallery. One member told the Phoenix New Times she was "witnessing history."

After he finished his invocation, Mendez stated that he is just one of 1.3 million Arizonans who are not affiliated with a particular religious tradition or organization.

"I hope today marks the beginning of a new era in which Arizona's non believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers," he said.

Not too many U.S. politicians publicly admit to being atheists - let alone do so at prayer time - despite the fact that a recent Pew survey found that one in five Americans has no religion.

Back in 2008, just after Barack Obama's election, sat down with Al Gore and asked him whether the U.S. would ever be ready for an atheist president. Here's what he had to say:

Via Phoenix New Times


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