An atheist state lawmaker in Arizona invoked astronomer Carl Sagan on Tuesday when he was tasked with giving the opening prayer for the state House of Representatives.
Democratic state Representative Juan Mendez began by asking members not to bow their heads, explaining that he had a “secular humanist tradition,” according to an account published by the Phoenix NewTimes.
“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads,” the lawmaker said. “I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. 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.”
“This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration,” he continued. “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.”
Mendez added a quote from Sagan’s book, Contact: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”
At a press conference outside the Legislature, members of the Secular Coalition for Arizona said that it has been an honor to be present for what they believed was the first atheist invocation on the state House floor.
Mendez, who also spoke at the event, noted that one in five Americans and 1.3 million Arizonans chose not to affiliate with a religion.
“We are learning the importance of coming out and visibility and how important it is in this effort to get non-believers to feel welcomed and valued,” he explained. “We do ourselves a disservice if we exclude or ignore the concerns of so many people in Arizona. And I simply want to let others know that we have more in common than we have in differences.”
“And that the love of our humanity and the sense of caring for, nourishing and developing and enhancing what it is to be human can be practiced by everyone.”
Watch this video from the Secular Coalition for Arizona, broadcast May 22, 2012.