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Democrat Athena Salman criticized for secular invocation

In public ceremonies, different faiths will offer prayers. Christians and Jews who are gathered for a graduation ceremony will offer prayers to God. Muslims will call on Allah to keep them safe and guide them through the duties of their day. Hindus will bow to their deity. But how does an Atheist fit into all of this?

An atheist is any person who does not believe in the power of a higher being. Atheists live by the belief that the choice of right and wrong belongs solely to the person; no supernatural being can influence that choice. That was the argument that Athena Salman, a legislator with the Arizona House of Representatives, made for her actions in the House.

Before members of the House get down to their business, they usually have an invocation. Different House members take turns saying that invocation. In April, the duty of saying the invocation fell on 28-year-old Democrat Representative Salman. Salman stood up and read out her invocation. When she was done, another member of the House rebuked her because “her invocation did not call on any higher power.” The Speaker granted that Salman’s godless invocation was against the rules of the House (the rules had been amended to demand that every invocation call on a deity), and asked another Representative, a Republican, to lead the House through a Christian prayer.

That move by the young Arizona legislator earned her a Visibility Award from the Secular Coalition for America. The group applauded Salman for “standing up for secular values, including the separation of state and church.” Let’s take a look at why this is important.

According to the First Amendment right of the U.S. Constitution, the government is not allowed to “establish any religion.” Therefore, every office and site under the state or federal government should not have a requirement when it comes to religion. In the Arizona House of Representatives, that was not the case. The laws of the House prohibit the freedom of a person to not choose religion. Salman stayed true to her Atheist roots by using a secular invocation, and she should not have been discriminated against for it.

Salman’s invocation was not the first to have “insulted” members of the House. In 2016, State Senator Juan Mende also faced mild criticism for using a secular invocation. The discrimination of the two state servants because of their secularism raises the question of respect for all different forms of belief.

In an interview with the Religion News Service, Salman said that secular values promote “the idea that it is good in humanity” and that “people can come together and do good.” Salman argued that her invocation was not meant as an insult to the House but to simply “highlight the commonality of human nature.” Secular values encourage people to embrace non-violence, and empathy, compassion, and affection for others; is it so different from religion?

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