This past Tuesday, State Representative Juan Mendez (D-Tempe) gained national notice when he started a floor session by courageously announcing that he is an atheist and asking the House to "celebrate their shared humanness".
To the best of my knowledge, he is the only openly atheist, or even non-religious, state or national level elected in the country. And that makes him one of the bravest people I know.
|Mendez at the Capitol on the first day of the 2013 session. Pic courtesy Mendez' Facebook page.|
Rep. Mendez' Reddit.com thread on the subject here.
From the Reddit thread, the text of his remarks -
Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. I would like to ask you not to 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 of our state.
This room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. 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.” There is, in the political process, much to bear. In this room, let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our Constitution and for our democracy - and let us root our policymaking process in these values that are relevant to all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or nonbelief. In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better Arizona.The video of Rep. Mendez' comments -
Most of the reporting and commentary on this that I've seen has been neutral or supportive. However, Mendez' colleague, State Rep. Steve "Ode to Imperialism" Smith (R-Maricopa), was so afraid of divine retribution that on Wednesday that he felt it necessary to offer a second prayer that day to "make up" for Rep. Mendez' lack of servile reverence Tuesday. Smith's actual term was "penance".
State Rep. Brenda Barton, a Republican from Payson, chimed in with a condescending FB update on Saturday -
However, at least one of Smith's colleagues, Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai (D-LD7), a Navajo legislator, stood up and expressed heartfelt support for Rep. Mendez and any other members who are non-Christian in their beliefs, or are non-believers.
For the record, I'm not an atheist, but neither am I a follower of a particular set of religious beliefs or dogma.
Unless "prove it" is considered "dogma".
To put it simply, good people are good, bad people are bad, and my assessment of that categorization is based on behavior toward others, not simply professed religious beliefs or non-beliefs.
Representative Juan Mendez is good people.
Steve Muratore at Arizona Eagletarian offers a take that is far more in-depth than this one, here.