Arizona state legislator Athena Salman stands up for the Constitution

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Make a note about the provision prohibiting “an establishment of religion”, as it’s important for the subject matter of this blog post.

This was an invocation that Athena Salman, a Democratic member of the Arizona House of Representatives, delivered this invocation before the house on April 18:

Take a moment to look around you at the people gathered here today. 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.
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. As we speak today, remember that commonality. Remember the humanity that resides within each and every person here, and each and every person in the city, and in all people in the nation and world as a whole. In the words of former President of Illinois Wesleyan University Minor Meyers, Jr., “Go forth and do well, but even more, go forth and do good.”

If you noticed that something was missing from the invocation, it was the lack of any reference to a religious deity of any kind. That prompted Republicans in the Arizona House to allow a member of their caucus to offer a Christian prayer, and it prompted Republicans to condemn Salman for not invoking the power of a religious deity.

I am strongly opposed to the idea of government bodies requiring a religious invocation under any circumstances. I might be the only atheist in the entire country who is a big NASCAR fan, and NASCAR races traditionally incorporate a Christian invocation into the pre-race ceremonies. However, NASCAR, and the facilities where NASCAR races are held, are private-sector corporations, so NASCAR can require a religious invocation prior to its races if NASCAR wishes to do so. The Arizona House of Representatives is a state government entity, and government entities have a constitutional mandate to separate religion from government duties. Athena Salman was a victim of discrimination by her own colleagues for opting not to reference a religious deity in her invocation before the Arizona House.