An Arizona state legislator was criticized after she offered a non-theistic invocation to open a session of the Arizona House on April 19.
Rep. Athena Salman (D), an atheist, spoke of the power of unity, justice and humanity, remarking, “In a nation often eager to be polarized in its views, allow us in this moment to recognize what we have in common: A deep-seated need to help create a more just and positive world.”
But Rep. Mark Finchem (R) immediately objected, claiming that Salman’s statement violated House rules because it did not speak to what he understood to be a higher power. Finchem then gave a substitute prayer that invoked Jesus.
Faith and secular groups rallied in support of Salman, including AU’s Greater Phoenix Chapter, which offered a statement that read in part, “Religious freedom is a cherished American ideal. It guarantees that everyone’s tradition, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, Sikh, Hindu, or humanist, must be treated equally. Yesterday, Rep. Salman was not treated equally and the Arizona House of Representatives betrayed religious freedom and the pluralism and diversity that are at the core of America’s strength.”
Continued the statement, “The actions on the House floor yesterday sent a clear message to Rep. Salman, as well as to other Arizonans who are atheist, humanist, agnostic, or of minority faiths: their beliefs regarding religion are unwelcome in the House of Representatives.”