A national atheist organization wants Republican State Representative Steve Smith to apologize for his prayer of "repentance," which Smith apparently led for the purpose of spiting a non-Christian colleague.
David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, said Smith's stunt was "one of the most un-American remarks I have ever heard from a public servant," as he and other atheists released a letter asking Smith to apologize.
-Steve Smith Says Extra Prayer to Offset Atheist Colleague's Non-Prayer
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Mendez essentially came out as an atheist when he delivered the opening prayer for the House of Representatives last week by asking that people not bow their heads, and instead spoke about the values of his "secular humanist tradition."
"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," Mendez later said.
In response, Smith asked the next day that everyone in the House pray for the second time of the session -- in "repentance."
In addition to the letter, American Atheists also released a statement from Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, who said that Smith "embarrassed himself," adding that Smith "demonstrated how, unfortunately, religious belief can be used as a basis for exclusion and hatred."
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"Representative Smith owes Representative Mendez, and the citizens of our state, an apology for his inappropriate remarks," Krauss says.
Check out the letter from the executives of American Atheists, as well as the leaders of Arizona-based atheist organizations, on the next page.
Dear State Representative Smith:
On behalf of atheists, nontheists, religious minorities, and non-Christians nationwide, we formally ask you to apologize to state Representative Mendez, to us, and to the American people for your disparaging remarks made on Wednesday, May 22 during the opening of the Arizona Senate session.
Your invitation of a second daily prayer in "repentance" for the secular invocation offered by Representative Mendez on Tuesday was insulting and degrading to him and to all nonreligious Arizonians as well as all non-Christian Arizonians.
America is a diverse country with many people who practice many religions and no religion and this is true for Arizona and your senate district. In fact, there are about 1.3 million atheists in Arizona. Additionally, in the Arizona legislature, there are members who are not Christian and Christians who do not practice Christianity the same way you do. To recognize these differences does not denigrate America but celebrates its diversity.
There is no requirement to be a Christian in order to be a patriot. Your statement that in order to love this country one must be a Christian is unpatriotic, deeply troubling, and counter to the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Again, we ask that you apologize to Representative Mendez, to your constituents, to the people of Arizona, and most especially, to all non-Christians--not for being a Christian nor for wanting to pray, but for using your position as an elected official to denounce another person's life view as wrong and in need of correction.
David Silverman, President
Amanda Knief, Managing Director
Dave Muscato, Public Relations Director
Nick Fish, Development Director
Todd Jones, Director of Operations
Ken Loukinen, Director of Regional Operations
Greg Lammers, National Affiliates Director
Don Lacey, Arizona State Director
Dennis Horvitz, Atheist Viewpoint Co-Host
Serah Blain, Executive Director, Secular Coalition of Arizona