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Atheist State Lawmaker Quotes Carl Sagan Instead of Doing Prayer Before House Session

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An atheist state lawmaker tasked with delivering the opening prayer for this afternoon's session of the House of Representatives asked that people not bow their heads.

Democratic Representative Juan Mendez, of Tempe, instead spoke about his "secular humanist tradition" and even quoted author Carl Sagan.

"Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads," Mendez 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."

Click here to watch the video of Mendez's invocation.

As you can imagine -- especially now, with Arizona's legislature being controlled by religion-heavy Republicans -- this is probably the first time that an invocation at the legislature took that direction.

"This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration," Mendez said. "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 continued, "Carl Sagan once wrote, 'For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.'"

There certainly aren't many openly atheist politicians across the country, let alone folks bringing their lack of belief in God and/or gods to prayer time. You may remember some controversy about Democratic Congressman Kyrsten Sinema, who has been described as the only atheist in Congress, even though she rejects the label of "atheist." (Perhaps it's a coincidence, but many of Mendez's constituents also call Sinema their Congresswoman.)

Mendez, in addition to his God-free invocation, also introduced members of the Secular Coalition for Arizona, sitting in the House gallery. One of the members said she was "witnessing history."

After the invocation, Mendez called himself one of just one of 1.3 million Arizonans not affiliated with a religious tradition or organization.

"I hope today marks the beginning of a new era in which Arizona's non believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers," he said.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

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