WASHINGTON (RNS) As member of the Arizona House of Representatives, Athena Salman took her turn recently and offered an invocation before the start of the day’s business.
But the first-term Democrat from Tempe, is an atheist and her invocation did not reference a higher power.
“Take a moment to look around you at the people gathered here today,” Salman’s invocation began. “We come from a variety of backgrounds and interests, but the passion that ignites us; the fire that burns within us; is similar. We all seek to form ‘a more perfect union,’ creating change from an abiding passion to improve the lives of the humans of this city. There is wonder in that. More importantly, though, there is unity.”
That unity was shattered immediately after the invocation when Rep. Mark Finchem, a Republican, objected to the Arizona House leadership because the invocation did not appeal to a higher power. In February, Republicans added a rule that required opening invocations to do so.
The Republican speaker of the House, J.D. Mesnard, ruled Salman’s prayer violated the House rules. Finchem was permitted to give a second invocation, one that referenced Jesus.
This is not the first time the Arizona House had a dust-up over a godless invocation. In 2016, then-representative Juan Mendez — an atheist and Salman’s partner — upset his Republican colleagues when he, too, failed to mention a higher power. Mendez is now a state senator, and when he repeated his invocation this year no one complained publicly.
Last week, Salman, 28, was in the nation’s capital to receive an award from the Secular Coalition for America, an umbrella organization of 18 atheist, humanist and freethought groups, which saluted her for standing up for “secular values,” including the separation for church and state. She sat down with RNS to discuss the reaction to her invocation and what it is like to be the only…