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Christianity Arizona House Member’s Atheist Nod At Prayer Time Sparks Do-over From Christian Lawmaker

Tejwant Singh

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Arizona House member’s atheist nod at prayer time sparks do-over from Christian lawmaker

Ross D. Franklin By Associated Press, Published: May 22,2013

PHOENIX — An atheist lawmaker’s decision to give the daily prayer at the Arizona House of Representatives triggered a do-over from a Christian lawmaker who said the previous day’s prayer didn’t pass muster.

Republican Rep. Steve Smith on Wednesday said the prayer offered by Democratic Rep. Juan Mendez of Tempe at the beginning of the previous day’s floor session wasn’t a prayer at all. So he asked other members to join him in a second daily prayer in “repentance,” and about half the 60-member body did so. Both the Arizona House and Senate begin their sessions with a prayer and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

“When there’s a time set aside to pray and to pledge, if you are a non-believer, don’t ask for time to pray,” said Smith, of Maricopa. “If you don’t love this nation and want to pledge to it, don’t say I want to lead this body in the pledge, and stand up there and say, ‘you know what, instead of pledging, I love England’ and (sit) down.

“That’s not a pledge, and that wasn’t a prayer, it’s that simple,” Smith said.

Mendez said he was just looking for a way to convey his own feelings like other members do when they take the rotation giving the daily prayer.

“I wanted to find a way to where I could convey some message and take advantage of the opportunity that people have when they offer these prayers,” he said. “If my lack of religion doesn’t give me the same opportunity to engage in this platform then I feel kind of disenfranchised. So I did want to stand up and offer some kind of thing that represented my view on what’s going on.”

Wednesday’s dust-up over religion comes just days after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether an upstate New York town is violating constitutional prohibitions on government sanction of religion by offering prayers to open public meetings. The justices will review an appeals court ruling that held that the upstate New York town of Greece, a Rochester suburb, violated the Constitution by opening nearly every meeting over an 11-year span with prayers that stressed Christianity.

Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Andy Biggs filed a legal brief agreeing with the town’s position.

On Wednesday, Tobin said he had no problem with Mendez’s prayer.

“From my perspective I didn’t see an issue with Mr. Mendez yesterday,” said Tobin, R-Paulden. “I can appreciate what Mr. Smith was saying, but I think all members are responsible for their own prayerful lives and I think the demonstration that we take moments for prayer we all do collectively and in our own hearts.”

Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, who represents a northern Arizona district on the Navajo reservation, did take offense. She said Smith’s criticism of another member’s faith, or lack of it, was wrong.

“I want to remind the House and my colleagues and everybody here that several of us here are not Christianized. I’m a traditional Navajo, so I stand here every day and participate in prayers,” even without personally embracing them, said Peshlakai, D-Cameron. “This is the United States, this is America, and we all represent different people ... and you need to respect that. Your God is no more powerful than my God. We all come from the same creator.”

Mendez gave the invocation Tuesday while members of the Secular Coalition for Arizona were in the visitors’ gallery. He began his remarks by asking fellow lawmakers not to bow their heads but to instead look around at the other men and women in the room, “sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people of our state.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/arizona-house-members-atheist-nod-at-prayer-time-sparks-do-over-from-christian-lawmaker/2013/05/22/f2767a5c-c327-11e2-9642-a56177f1cdf7_story.html
 

spnadmin

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I became so excited when I read this that it is hard to know where to begin my reply. I will just jump in.

It is probably a steep learning curve to understand how diverse the US really is. Reactions abroad admit to the country as "West" "secular" "materialist" "violent" "sexualized" and inclined toward "war-making." But even living in the states a lifetime does not guarantee anyone will fully appreciate the diversity here ... because the 50 states are in some ways nations within nations, and cultures unto themselves.

On my first visit to Arizona I walked around in a daze. it seemed I had just opened my eyes and was in a place unlike any other state in the union.. a country unto itself. Without going into detail about this, all I want to say is that Arizona still refers to itself as the Arizona Republic. It is different there and proud to be different. It is made up of Anglos, immigrant Mexicans, ethnic Mexicans whose families have lived there from the times of the conquistadors, immigrant populations from Asia brand new, a huge influx of city dwellers from all over the US to the Tempe area, at least 3 Apache tribal peoples, Navaho, Zuni and Hopi and other pueblo peoples, and several other smaller native American groups. That is the cultural mix within which this debate is raging.

Now imagine what the language and religious combinations must be like. The Navajo tribal reservation is as large as all the New England States and part of New York state. Though English and Navajo are spoken, so is Spanish. Some Navajo are Christian, and some are Mormon, and many adhere to their ancestral religion (which is eerily like Sikhism). There is a brisk traffic in preachers in old pick-up trucks raising tents and trying to bring who they can to the "church."

All of the US states are just as complicated, but none are like Arizona. It is a country unto itself.

So now having described the republic - may she prosper - some brief reactions.
Arizona House member’s atheist nod at prayer time sparks do-over from Christian lawmaker

Ross D. Franklin By Associated Press, Published: May 22,2013

PHOENIX — An atheist lawmaker’s decision to give the daily prayer at the Arizona House of Representatives triggered a do-over from a Christian lawmaker who said the previous day’s prayer didn’t pass muster.

...

“I wanted to find a way to where I could convey some message and take advantage of the opportunity that people have when they offer these prayers,” he said. “If my lack of religion doesn’t give me the same opportunity to engage in this platform then I feel kind of disenfranchised. So I did want to stand up and offer some kind of thing that represented my view on what’s going on.”

This argument will never and can never be solved in a way that will satisfy everyone. We have similar dialogs about prayer at commencement convocations. Non-believers and humanists may feel disenfranchised by prayer. Humanists ask for a nondenominational prayer -- whenever we tried it, it offended every one else. No prayer raises the hackles of believers; the majority of students, parents and faculty are believers in something. Rotating denominational clergy was probably the worst option of all because something was always prayed for that flew in the face of another religion. Unlike India, the US does not have a law about "hurting religious sentiments." Here, we all kind of depend on it.

After many long debates and committee discussions that happen about every 2 years, the decision came down from vox populi. Most are believers. There will be a prayer of some kind. And the chaplain of many years ... a Presbyterian... was able to offer a prayer that avoided any terms of speech that might set people off.

The working rule seems to be "let's agree that we are going to disagree" and try to resolve this issue by lowering the heat instead of blowing someone else's candle out.


Wednesday’s dust-up over religion comes just days after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether an upstate New York town is violating constitutional prohibitions on government sanction of religion by offering prayers to open public meetings. The justices will review an appeals court ruling that held that the upstate New York town of Greece, a Rochester suburb, violated the Constitution by opening nearly every meeting over an 11-year span with prayers that stressed Christianity.

The vox populi I mentioned above works pretty well when decisions about religion are conducted on a smaller scale, within nongovernmental organizations. The debate above is about a "town" which is a government entity. The fact that the question is going to the Supreme Court means that the citizens of the town were unable to lower the heat, and preferred to blow out some candles. Government according to the US constitution also has to be sensitive to the problem of tyranny by the majority. If a majority support prayer, that might still violate the rights of the few. So the court will be guided by the 1st Amendment which says that the government shall not establish a religion or prohibit the free expression of religion. Simple? Not! The Supreme court has to weigh whether the prayers at public meetings equal the establishment of 'religion' by the town government. It will have to also consider whether these prayers discriminate any individual or group.

...

Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, who represents a northern Arizona district on the Navajo reservation, did take offense. She said Smith’s criticism of another member’s faith, or lack of it, was wrong.

“I want to remind the House and my colleagues and everybody here that several of us here are not Christianized. I’m a traditional Navajo, so I stand here every day and participate in prayers,” even without personally embracing them, said Peshlakai, D-Cameron. “This is the United States, this is America, and we all represent different people ... and you need to respect that. Your God is no more powerful than my God. We all come from the same creator.”

I don't know whether Rep Smith would agree that he and Rep Peshalakai come from the same creator. But there you have it. Rep. Peshlakai belongs to the spiritual tradition of the Dine Bahane, a tradition best called "walking the path of balance and beauty," hózhóogo naasháadoo, which seeks harmony with all creation. She is basically saying, Everyone carries a candle. Respect that! Each candle is as bright as the next for the one who carries it.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/arizona-house-members-atheist-nod-at-prayer-time-sparks-do-over-from-christian-lawmaker/2013/05/22/f2767a5c-c327-11e2-9642-a56177f1cdf7_story.html
The tug of war is exhausting. For some R & R ? I would recommend a very well-run camp site on the Navajo Reservation ... in Arizona. BTW .. No alcohol is permitted. Neither is littering. Swearing and fighting can get you a visit by the tribal police.

p/s Navajo creation does not begin with the "Great Spirit." A first cause is notably absent. A pine tree, insects and Coyote were there with the First People, even before First Man and First Woman appeared. Most native american creation stories do not begin with a Great Spirit. You only hear that in cowboy westerns. The Great Spirit is by and large a "western" thought.
 
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spnadmin

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Now it is time for someone to take the thread off-topic (joking) by bringing up Arizona's harsh new immigration policies. If you do, please I beg you, connect it to the fundamental ideas of the starter article. (serious)

This does justice to the Navajo spirituality. Gurbani lovers will make connections, not perfect, but connections.

Navajo Mythological Cosmology: Chanting the landscape - YouTube
 
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Inderjeet Kaur

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Couple of thoughts. First, please watch the Navajo video. It takes you into a different world, one worth visiting, even if you don't quite belong to live there. I suggest you l leave your own beliefs behind and enter into this different way of viewing existence. Experience something new to you. You have nothing to lose but your xenophobia.

Second, l am 100% in favour of granting atheists full, equal rights. I am tired of theists being the only ones allowed to publicly participate in such practices as prayer time. It's time we grow up a little bit. Honestly, I get along better with atheists better than I do any religious group, including Sikhs. For once, maybe Arizona did something right. Now let's hope they don't blow it.

Always like this song and it sort of seems to fit.
http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=yhdiSqt6sXE&desktop_uri=/watch?v=yhdiSqt6sXEl.h
 
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Tejwant Singh

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Arizona is the most diverse state in the US in my opinion. One can encounter from the Navajo Indian to the South Asian Indian and everybody else in between over there. It has one of the oldest Chinese communities on both sides of the border. The best Chinese food is in Sonora and Mexicali, the former is across the US-Mexican border in Nogales,AZ and the latter in California. The Chinese settled in Mexico long before they did in the US. In fact Mexicali started as a Chinese settlement.

It is ironic to notice that yet, Arizona being the most diverse, it is still being ruled by the few white men/women.

Tejwant Singh
 

spnadmin

1947-2014 (Archived)
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It is ironic to notice that yet, Arizona being the most diverse, it is still being ruled by the few white men/women.

Tejwant Singh
Yes! And if it were not off-topic I would bend anyone's digital ear who wants to hear it just what that white hegemony cooks up. To borrow from Inderjeet Kaur ji - layer upon layer of alternate universes with the postal code AZ
 
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The shabd under discussion in this article is composed by Guru Teg Bahadur ji and is contained on Page 633 of the SGGS. The complete shabd is as follows:

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