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home : latest news : state May 26, 2016


12/13/2013 10:58:00 AM
Tolerance grows, but number of nonreligious lawmakers doesn't
When called on to open an Arizona House session with a prayer, Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, an atheist, instead told colleagues to look around and celebrate their “humaness” and “shared ability for reason and compassion.” He said it was a difficult decision to put his beliefs on display that way. (Photo courtesy Rep. Juan Mendez)
When called on to open an Arizona House session with a prayer, Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, an atheist, instead told colleagues to look around and celebrate their “humaness” and “shared ability for reason and compassion.” He said it was a difficult decision to put his beliefs on display that way. (Photo courtesy Rep. Juan Mendez)
Despite increasing tolerance of the nonreligious, almost all members of Congress claim to belong to a religion. Congress’ history of religious affiliation is on display in this plaque, one of two at the Longworth House Office Building and the Dirksen Senate Office Building. (Photo courtesy the Architect of the Capitol)
Despite increasing tolerance of the nonreligious, almost all members of Congress claim to belong to a religion. Congress’ history of religious affiliation is on display in this plaque, one of two at the Longworth House Office Building and the Dirksen Senate Office Building. (Photo courtesy the Architect of the Capitol)
Mixing religion and politics
Religious affiliations of Arizona's congressional delegation, as reported by the members:

- Rep. Ron Barber: Roman Catholic

- Sen. Jeff Flake: Mormon

- Rep. Trent Franks: Southern Baptist

- Rep. Paul Gosar: Roman Catholic

- Rep. Raul M. Grijalva: Roman Catholic

- Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick: Roman Catholic

- Sen. John McCain: Episcopalian

- Rep. Ed Pastor: Roman Catholic

- Rep. Matt Salmon: Mormon

- Rep. David Schweikert: Roman Catholic

- Rep. Kyrsten Sinema: None



Religions represented in Congress as a whole:

- Protestant: 301

- Catholic: 163

- Jewish: 33

- Mormon: 15

- Orthodox Christian: 5

- Buddhist: 3

- Muslim: 2

- Hindu: 1

- Unitarian Universalist: 1

- None: 1

- Don't know/refused to answer: 10

Source: "Faith on the Hill: The Religious Composition of the 113th Congress," Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project

BY BRANDON BROWN
Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON - Most Arizona lawmakers feel a sense of pride when asked to give the invocation to open a House session, but Rep. Juan Mendez was gripped by a different emotion.

"I came in with a little bit of fear - not wanting to let myself be known," said Mendez, a freshman Democrat from Tempe.

"Known" as an atheist.

Even as Americans become less religious and their tolerance for atheism is growing, there are still very few politicians who are openly nonreligious. They have to walk the thin line between their personal feelings and public image.

"There is such a stigma attached to being a nonbeliever," said Lauren Youngblood, spokeswoman for the Secular Coalition for America.

This despite the fact that the fastest-growing religious group in the U.S. from 2007 to 2012 was religiously unaffiliated - or "nones" - according to a 2012 Pew Research report. It said the percentage of religiously unaffiliated U.S. adults grew from 15.3 to 19.6 percent in that time.

Nonreligious includes everything from atheists and agnostics to people who simply do not affiliate with any particular religion. But Pew said atheists and agnostics made up 5.7 percent of the adult population in 2012, accounting for about 13 million people.

But there is only one member of Congress who has gone on record as nonreligious: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, was the only one to answer "none" when a 2013 Pew Research poll asked members of Congress about their religion.

Sinema's office declined requests for an interview for this article.

"When she first got elected, everybody in our movement was very enthusiastic," said Bishop McNeill, coordinator for a new secular political action committee. "But unfortunately ... she has gotten some advice to stray away from that label."

But experts say such reticence is understandable given the often-negative perception of atheists in this country and the long history of religion and politics.

"Religion and politics have always gone together in America," said Kevin Coe, a communications professor at the University of Utah and author of "The God Strategy."

Ever since George Washington talked in his first inaugural address about "fervent supplication to that almighty being," Coe said, presidents and other politicians have felt inclined to talk about religious faith.

Even though the Constitution bans a religious test for elected office, Coe said a de facto test is whether or not a candidate openly speaks to his or her beliefs.

That's only fair that candidates share their religious beliefs, said Brent Walker, so voters can know where politicians stand morally.

Walker, the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said that being a person of faith can be a plus in a country as religious as the U.S. - even though he conceded that some politicians overdo it to push policies.

But atheists, he said, remain "a very distinct minority in our country and I would argue a political disadvantage."

Former members of Congress who have professed their lack of faith would agree.

In 2007, then-Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark, D-Calif., became the first member of Congress to declare his atheism.

"I didn't wear my atheism on my sleeve," he said. "But I never went to prayer breakfast, either."

After Stark came out, he met with some atheist groups but said he was surprised by how abrasive they were.

"I was sort of set back how aggressive and nasty they were towards anyone in another religion," Stark said.

He said it should not matter what his, or any politician's, religion is. That antagonistic attitude is one reason he and other lawmakers believe the label atheist has a bad rap.

Stark won two more elections as an atheist, but was beat in a 2012 primary race, leaving no open atheists in Congress.

Youngblood claims that 32 members of the current Congress have told her or others in the Secular Coalition for America, that they are atheist but cannot admit it for fear of political backlash.

Walker did not comment on the number, but said he would not be surprised if there were nonbelievers in Congress who claimed a faith.

To help chip away at atheism's negative connotations, Youngblood said the coalition is encouraging atheists to "come out" - much as gays and lesbians did in the past.

But that may be easier said than done.

Former Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., made history in 1987 when he became the first member of Congress to willingly come out as gay, but it was not until recently, after he left office, that he talked about his lack of faith.

Frank said he quit professing any faith long ago, but because he was asked about his religion he would answer "Jewish." While "none" might have been more truthful, Frank said, he did not want to appear as if he was turning his back on other Jews.

"(Politically) the barriers on nonreligious people have pretty much been dropped," said Frank, who considers himself culturally Jewish. But he said making the leap from nonreligious to declaring "yourself an atheist goes eight steps further."

Like Stark, Frank said atheist remains a harsh word.

That perception is the No. 1 problem nontheist politicians face, McNeill said. That is one reason for the creation earlier this year of the Freethought Equality Fund, which he coordinates, a political action committee to raise money for "electing secular leaders" and "defending secular America."

The PAC does not have to report its financials to the Federal Election Commission until January, but it already has more than 50 donors, said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, which operates the PAC. He said that means it can operate as a multicandidate PAC.

Chances for nonbelieving politicians are better - but still not good.

A 2012 Gallup poll found that 54 percent of voters would vote for an atheist in a presidential election, well above the 18 percent who said in 1958 that they would vote for an atheist.

But the same 2012 Gallup poll said 95 percent would vote for a woman, 94 percent for a Catholic, 80 percent for a Mormon and 68 would vote for homosexual. Atheist was the least-popular option.

Mendez said he does not shy away from the word atheist - but he did not want to be labeled the atheist lawmaker, either.

When he was called to offer the prayer in May, he first tried to get a secular lobbying group to give the invocation in his place, but that fell through. So he gave an invocation that started by asking all present not to bow their heads, but to look around at the others in the room.

"Let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness," Mendez said, "our shared ability for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our constitution and for our democracy."

The next day, Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, asked House members to join him in prayer for "repentance of yesterday." But Mendez said that was the only thing "that made it feel like I was doing something that I wasn't suppose to be doing." Otherwise, he said, he got positive emails and phone calls, and was stopped on the street by people thanking him for his prayer and message.

"I never meant to carry any type of flag," Mendez said. "It was me just trying to be myself in that situation."

Mendez's "prayer" never addressed God, only humans, and it quoted Carl Sagan. And then, like any good atheist prayer, it ended not with "amen" but by saying, "thank you."

Taylor Waste

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013
Article comment by: M J

What was the point of this article?

So some guy named Juan Mendez was uncomfortable sayin' he is an atheist... so what... booo hooo for him
I'm uncomfortable in the Dentist office

So some guy gave a different prayer the next day.... so what.... booo hooo sob sob go the liberals

Am I suppose to feel sorry for this Mendez guy?
Why? Because he was "uncomfortable" ... again .... who cares

Am I suppose to give kudos that he wants to be another liberal martyr?
And you thought only Catholics had martyrs

Am I suppose to break down with great big crocodile tears.. OoOoOo the poor poor guy.... he was uncomfortable.... woe is us!
Woe is us... the world is a comin' to an end!!!

When Juan Mendez gave his "version" of a prayer... were the other lawmakers in the room howlin' and hissin' at him - no
Were the other lawmakers in the room throwin' things at him or makin' threats of any kind - no

Nothing
but
NOTHING
brings out the howlin' and squeeeeeelin' liberal horde like the mention of religion
and iffin you can put religion and homosexuals together in the same article

Well...
It's a howlin' good time for the libs

I am enjoyin' the show....
a few posts on here made me laugh out loud
nothin' beats liberal twisted pretzel "logic" to make you laugh

howl on liberals ... howl on

How odd ... they don't howl at all 'bout the presidents lies


Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013
Article comment by: @@ @ Nolan

WoW, Sounds like you're qualified to be Pope!

I was raised by my Catholic grandmother and also attended parochial school. My grandmother wasn't just a strict Catholic, she was Shi*ite Catholic!

I failed to see where you responded to question of going to hell with your Catholic faith intact. Well?

I wonder why hetero-phobes somehow feel they gain some vestige of moral superiority by ignorantly attacking Christianity, calling anyone who believes in God or the benefits of morality, heretics? Even going so far as to redefine Christian beliefs to assuage their feelings of guilt regarding their abhorrent behavior.


Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013
Article comment by: @ @ Nolan

Oooo, reduced to stupidly incorrect wild-a guesses are you?

I think being raised in a strict Catholic family my fourteen years of Catholic education, including 2 years in seminary: plus, having a brother who made it to 3rd year theology in seminary: plus, life-long associations with priest-friends frequent long theological discussions with the archbishop of a large Diocese and theology and philosophy courses in college, what I know about Catholic theology could be, at least, written on the head of a 16 penny nail.

In your ignorance, you grossly underestimate my training.

However, your question about 'good standing," displays an almost dismal lack of knowledge of Catholic teachings regarding sin and the sacrament of Absolution.

The Church, "Hates the sin but loves the sinner."

You added the words, "..in good standing," I only said one would go to Hell a Catholic.

I wonder why homophobes somehow feel they gain some vestige of moral superiority by ignorantly attacking someone they don't know, calling them 'homosexual?'

Weird power, thing, I guess.

"Pinheads' are in play, here, @ Nolan, but, IMO, it more aptly describes you.




Posted: Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Article comment by: Maybe I missed something

I love athiests, the LGBT community and cannabis.

Athiests are more ethical than hypocritical "Christians."

LGBT are real people just being themselves, unlike the Pastor who preaches one thing and then has a affair with the church secretary or molests children.

Cannabis could save the world providing green jobs, medicine, nutrition, clothing, paper, biofuels, non-toxic 'plastics,' etc.

I am not an atheist, gay or use cannabis, I am just intelligent! And there are more of us than you would think!



Posted: Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Article comment by: @@ @ Nolan

What you know about Catholic theology could be written in bold type on the head of a pin.

You might want to re-read #10

Please, Please give us your source on Catholic theology regarding how someone goes to hell as a Catholic in good standing.

Contrary to your narcissistic view of the world, nobody cares about your homosexuality, other than others of your ilk. The issue is your attempt to redefine society and morality for next generations.

It is quite obvious to me that you're counting on the apathy of our nation's electorate to reorient religion, morality, marriage and common sense in order to wreak the maximum retribution you can for society's lack of enthusiasm for your lifestyle.


Posted: Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Article comment by: I'm not Only Atheist...

But Bisexual, and I smoke pot. After reading some of these comments now I really fear coming out of the closet on all three!

Posted: Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Article comment by: @ @ Nolan

Okay, homosexual behavior and murder are condemned in the bible.

So are the typical daily sins of lying, coveting goods, fornication and working on the Sabbath.

And, don't forget ole Onan.

Keeping the Sabbath, adultery, both covetings and murder made the Top 10 List!.

Lots of Christian oxymorons out there, @Nolan.

Seems if God were so obsessed with homosexuality, He might have mentioned it in His Big 10 List of no-no's.

You say, neither a gay nor a murderer, "...can be defined as a Christian unless they truly repent of their sins and change their behavior."

Catholic theology says you are wrong. To receive absolution one must be truly sorry for one's sins. A sinner does not lose his religion.

One may go to Hell, but, he goes to Hell a Catholic.

You opine, "Immoral behavior is not to be codified as a civil right or sanctified."

Like it or not, 'morality,' changes:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20131214/us-sister-wives-bigamy/?utm_hp_ref=politics&ir=politics




Posted: Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Article comment by: The color of Christmas

"...Megyn Kelly claims that Jesus and Santa were white!"

Jesus of Nazareth was a Galilean Jew. By U.S. Census definitions, he was 'white'. Unless you are a racist, that should not make any difference in your acceptance of his biblical teachings.
( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Jesus )

Santa Clause (from Dutch: Sinterklaas) is another name for Saint Nicholas, a Greek bishop. By U.S. Census definitions, he was 'white'. Unless you are a racist, that should not affect your love of children or joy in gift-giving.
( http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/ )

December 25 is probably not the actual birthday of Jesus of Nazareth. Unless you are a nationalist, that should not affect your demonstration of Christmas spirit by magnanimously financing the meager wages of Chinese factory workers.


Posted: Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Article comment by: FACTS not Fairytales please!

Mathew 6:6

Paraphrased: Pray in your closet to receive God's rewards, not in public, certainly not in my state legislature!


Posted: Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Article comment by: @ Nolan

@@ Nolan

Let's look at your argument logically, shall we?

You say,"So, if you say that homosexuality is sinful and that sin makes homosexual Christianity 'oxymoronic,' would that logic not apply to heterosexual Christians who habitually sin (Don't we all?)?"

The term Homosexual Christian is akin to saying Murdering Christian. You see, both behaviors are condemned in the bible. Neither one can be defined as a Christian unless they truly repent of their sins and change their behavior.

You do get the jist here, or not? Just in case I'll edify...

Immoral behavior is not to be codified as a civil right or sanctified.

Your next pearl of wisdom isn't exactly clear.

You said, "And, homosexual behavior is narcissistic, but, by definition, so is Christian heterosexual masturbation."

Are you saying non-Christian heterosexual masturbation is not narcissistic? I'm not sure why you included the adjective, 'Christian'.

I am just wondering if you had a point?


Posted: Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Article comment by: @ two cents

"Never," is a long time... and there is Chocolate.

Posted: Monday, December 16, 2013
Article comment by: two cents

I have my own beliefs based on my own homework. I do believe in a GOD, just not the God presented by todays' organized religious groups. Man has never gotten anything right, let alone religion.

Posted: Monday, December 16, 2013
Article comment by: @ @ Nolan

So, if you say that homosexuality is sinful and that sin makes homosexual Christianity 'oxymoronic,' would that logic not apply to heterosexual Christians who habitually sin (Don't we all?)?

And, homosexual behavior is narcissistic, but, by definition, so is Christian heterosexual masturbation.

I am just wondering if you had a point.


Posted: Monday, December 16, 2013
Article comment by: The Big Picture

If history is to deemed interpretation of facts, then our forefathers came to this country in part to seek religious fredoms. However, one of the biggest problems facing our country is that organized religion does not believe a person has the RIGHT to chose to be a believer or chose NOT to be a believer. It is this one sided, holier than thou attitude that insures my agnostic beliefs will never be silenced.

Posted: Sunday, December 15, 2013
Article comment by: From: Pope Francis To: all humans

To those who feel far from God and the Church, to all those who are fearful or indifferent, I would like to say this: the Lord, with great respect and love, is also calling you to be a part of his people!


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