Arizona legislators sign up to deliver an invocation at the opening of the daily floor session of the state House. But when newly elected state representative Athena Salman’s time came to inspire the chamber, all hell broke loose.
The Tempe Democrat stepped up on April 18 to offer a exceptionally thoughtful statement that reflected on high ideals, shared values and the pursuit of a more perfect union:
Take a moment to look around you at the people gathered here today. We come from a variety of backgrounds and interests, but the passion that ignites us; the fire that burns within us; is similar. We all seek to form “a more perfect union,” creating change from an abiding passion to improve the lives of the humans of this city. There is wonder in that. More importantly, though, there is unity.
In a nation often eager to be polarized in its views, allow us in this moment to recognize what we have in common: A deep-seated need to help create a more just and positive world. As we speak today, remember that commonality. Remember the humanity that resides within each and every person here, and each and every person in the city, and in all people in the nation and world as a whole. In the words of former President of Illinois Wesleyan University Minor Meyers, Jr., “Go forth and do well, but even more, go forth and do good.”
Wise and compelling words? Without a doubt. Healing and reconciling? Absolutely. Respectful of differences yet hopeful for cooperation even in these divided days? Certainly. In other words, Representative Salman, who represents a diverse district with many religious and secular traditions, delivered an admirable and appropriate address.
Or so it would have seemed.
The new legislator’s invocation drew an immediate rebuke from Republicans in the chamber, who objected that she had not chosen to “invoke a higher power.” A Republican legislator demanded that he be allowed to present a substitute prayer and went on to offer a Christian pronouncement. House Majority Leader John Allen, a Republican from Scottsdale, embraced the objections, declaring that: “I know it’s difficult to understand, but a prayer should be to a higher power.” Allen and others criticized Salman for violating the rules for the chamber by offering a humanist invocation.