Arizona House of Representatives officials were in for a surprise when Juan Mendez, a Democrat, delivered opening prayers at Tuesday’s assembly meeting.
Rather than commencing the session by appealing to Jesus or to a more general and benign “god,” Mendez took the opportunity to speak explicitly about his atheism.
The non-believer likely shocked his peers, who were probably expecting a more traditional invocation, but who were, instead, greeted with his godless worldview.
Mendez had, according to Gawker, put in a request to have Serah Blain, the director of Secular Coalition of Arizona, speak during the session’s opening. His request was apparently lost or not granted, so he decided to fill in for the secular leader.
And that’s when he touted his atheist brand of “prayer.” While there was no giving thanks or appeals to the Lord, there were some common themes that he embraced in highlighting the role politicians play in making life more beneficial for the residents they represent.
“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. I would like to ask you not to bow your heads,” the politician said. “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 of our state.”
Mendez called his fellow leaders to stress unifying qualities, despite the spats and debates they often find themselves in. He said that his views on compassion and care for others are a part of the Secular Humanist tradition. Using his speech as a launchpad, he pointed out other atheists who were watching from the House gallery, as Gawker notes, and said that he hoped the non-believers were as welcome — and valued — as the believers in the room.